The vehicle behind was a nondescript SUV. I thought it might be a Ford, but it was too begrimed with salt-stains and slush to be sure. What I did know was that it was hanging way too close to my ass, at best no more than a car-length from my van's rear bumper.
Regular drivers get all too-familiar with the idiocies that come to those given the twin delusions of privacy and power that come with being the wheel of a motor vehicle. If you don't drive a lot or are more often a passenger, they might sound like petty annoyances, but in truth thy are behaviours that put everyone on the road at risk.
- Changing lanes (or turning) without signalling;
- Texting while driving. (Yes, I see it all the fucking time.) And,
- And tail-gating.
The refusal to signal baffles mostly because it's so easy to flick on a turn-indicator; it takes little more muscular strength than it does to bat an eyelash, and the lever is located right next to the steering wheel — so why the hell not do it?
Texting while driving? Well, that never seems innocuous, just pathologically entitled. As if the culprit just doesn't believe that anything bad could ever happen to them. And doesn't care if they cause something bad to happen to someone else.
Of them all, tail-gating seems strangest, especially when a smaller vehicle is sniffing the ass of a larger. Why in the world would anyone want to drive at a high speed without being able to see the road in front them?
Nevertheless, it happens a lot and, after more than three years of driving for a living, I've developed a strategy. When someone gets a little too close and stays there for a while, I tap on my brakes, as clear a signal of Yo! Keep a safe distance! as I can think of. Nine times out of 10 (or maybe eight), the driver behind me will see the error of their ways and back off.
This time, buddy drifted back a bit, but only for a quarter kilometre at most. Then they closed the gap again and stayed there.
Paying closer attention now, I noticed my pursuer also had a tendency to weave, just a bit, into the left lane at one moment, onto the paved shoulder at right the next. Drugs, booze? Texting?
Whatever. I didn't like it. I stepped on the gas a little; maybe a little speed would lose them.
No such luck. Buddy matched my increase and stayed with me. I passed the first car I could, but buddy did the same, then settled back onto my tail.
Again and again and again. And again.
This went on for more than 50 kilometres. I first noticed the SUV before exit 88 on the way to Montreal, and realized there was no explanation but that Buddy was stalking me sometime around exit 34.
I took to tapping my brakes with increasing force and frequency, but the results were the same: a brief retreat, then a return to nose-on-tail. I pulled out to pass a transport, then another van, putting two vehicles between us, but it wasn't long at all before the grimy SUV showed again in my side-mirror. This time it stayed in the left lane, pulled almost level with me.
Was it going to pass me at last?
No such luck. After lurking on my left for maybe two or three minutes, the vehicle slipped back and took up its accustomed place in my rear-view mirror, like some malevolent phantom, too close and way too familiar.
Whelp. I stepped on the gas and (ever the thoughtful driver), flicked my turn signal, then swerved in front of him, passing the slow-moving BMW that had blocked my path.
Buddy sped up. Buddy passed the Lexus and settled, once more, into the slot no more than five metres behind me.
I tapped my brakes hard and long. He backed off. To maybe 10 metres. And stayed there for a while, before closing the gap again.
"Jesus Christ," I muttered. "This is getting fucking weird."
Was the driver someone I had inadvertently cut off a half-hour before? Had I made a gesture that looked like an obscenity to them?
I could think of no bad turns nor accidental obscenities; I'd heard no blaring horns nor seen any angry headlights a-flashing.
I was, in truth, getting seriously creeped out. When I thought they'd been about to over-take me, I'd wondered if a bullet might shatter my window as the SUV went by. A fantasy given weight by the sheer inexplicability of the pursuit.
By the time we crossed into Quebec — at least 40 minutes since I'd noticed I was being followed — I was thinking of asking one of my passengers to call the Quebec Provincial Police. But a flight attendant came to my rescue: she'd had too much coffee and wondered if we might make a pit-stop.
Oh yes we might!
Rigaud is about 13 kilometres over the frontier, with two exits. I ignored the first because I'd spotted a Greyhound bus up ahead and determined to use it.
I stepped on the gas and gave chase. Halfway to the second exit I settled in close behind the bus (and the SUV settled in close behind me). Hooray for knowing the road well!
I waited until the last possible moment, then ‐ for once without signalling — I pulled out to the left of the bus on a tight curve, drew level with its nose and stayed there until the exit was in sight. Then I put the pedal to the proverbial metal, pulled in font of the Greyhound and hit the off-ramp at full speed As I hit the brakes I saw my pursuer sail on by in the passing lane.
I told myself it was unlikely in the extreme that buddy intended me any "specific physical harm", but the relief I felt belied those assurances. Unlikely things (I answered myself) do sometimes happen. Only a half-hour from the Trudeau International Airport, I was more than happy to know I wouldn't be leading a crazy person to my destination.
I leaned on the brakes and we rolled towards the Arrêt sign at the end of ramp, then turned right, and right again, to pull into the parking lot of a rest stop, where my unknowing saviour could get out to take a pee.
If you'd asked while I was monitoring my rear-view mirror if I was scared, I'd have said "No". But once we were back on the road, unmolested, I realized I'd been lying to myself.
As I rather imagine most of the women who might read this will understand all too well, to say there is something unpleasant in being followed — whether or not there is any overt threat behind that attention — is to really understate the case.
What did he (I presume it was a he) want? I guess I'll never know. But that was a pretty unpleasant drive.
Note: The events recounted above took place in late March 2015.