I Nearly Got Strangled On My Way to the Mechanic
I don’t recall the exact words he screamed into my face, but I can still feel his hand around my throat. I see his frothing mouth and the trembling fury in his vivid blue eyes.
I’ve never been in a real fight; this was the most aggression I’ve ever received from another human. It didn’t happen in my thousands of miles of hitchhiking or in a lawless place like Slab City. I had to annoy a business owner in conservative, white, small-town Arizona to experience this level of unhinged rage.
I live, and travel, in an old airport shuttle bus I’ve converted to an RV. In late December, one of my starter-mounting bolts broke off and I tried for 3 weeks to fix it myself, but eventually I gave in and made an appointment with a mechanic.
The garage was in a remote section of Quartzsite, 5 miles south of the main part of town. Google maps gave me two possible routes. The first looked like it would take me down a gravel residential drive, so I skipped that option, staying on the pavement. The next option routed me through an RV park.
I figured all paths to the mechanic involved residential drives and that people must pass through there all the time, so it shouldn’t be a big deal to drive through.
It was the owner of this RV park who assaulted me a minute later.
If there was a 5 MPH sign posted, as he later claimed, I missed it. I was probably driving 20 or 25. The road was completely clear of vehicles, pedestrians, and animals, so I felt safe traveling at that speed. I cruised through because I was eager to get past this weird part of the drive and meet the mechanic.
I got back onto the main road without incident (there had been a paved route all along that my GPS didn’t show me). I waved at some smiling ladies out for a walk. Then, someone flew past me on a Razor.
Before I could finish rolling my eyes and muttering “jackass”, the guy swerved in front of me and slammed on his brakes.
If you’re not familiar with what a Razor is, it’s basically an ATV on steroids with a roll cage.
And if you’re not familiar with the vehicle I drive, it’s a 23-foot-long, 11500-lb-GVWR, Ford E-350 shuttle bus.
In that second of panicked braking, my brain went from “oh shit, I can’t stop fast enough” to “wait, he did that on purpose!” as I smashed into the back of his vehicle.
I opened my door to get out and express my profound disbelief at his actions, but before I could move he was already blocking my exit.
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING DRIVING THROUGH MY RV PARK LIKE THAT?!” roared the man, leaning into me, with his hand around my throat and his face a foot away from mine.
His anger was a crashing wave, an inescapable force of nature pinning me down. I was shocked and afraid. I’ve never had to develop an instinct for how to react in a situation like this.
I don’t travel with a gun, but I thought about grabbing the machete I keep accessible from the driver’s seat. That didn’t feel right, either, though. I’ve never had a problem defusing conflict with words. After a couple rounds of apologies for my speeding he finally backed away.
Ironically, he was the one who threatened to call the police. I encouraged him to do it; I would have called if he didn’t.
Some of his friends came by after hearing the commotion. He made complaints to them that he must have known were ridiculous — painting me as the reckless driver who had rear-ended him, despite his intentional accident-causing actions.
As his anger leveled out, he seemed more sheepish. The dispatcher called back to tell him the sheriff would take a while to get there, and he said that we could just settle it on our own, but I insisted the sheriff should come.
By this time I was late for my appointment. I was only about a block away. I called the mechanic, who said “oh, that’s you out there in the bus? I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. I thought you were in a normal-sized truck… I can’t fit you on my lift.”
All this drama for an errand that was pointless all along!
As I was on the phone with the mechanic, the RV park owner said to me: “the sheriff won’t be here for an hour or two, so I’m going back home, you can wait if you want.”
When the sheriff arrived (20 minutes later), I told him my side of the story. He asked if I wanted to press charges. I wasn’t particularly keen to deal with a lawsuit and stick around the area any longer than I had to. He offered to give the guy a talking-to, and I said that would be good.
I went to a different mechanic the next day and they solved the problem with no strangulation attempts along the way.
It’s hard for me to understand what would have caused this man to become so angry, so quickly.
From his perspective, I can see how it would be frustrating to have random people speeding through his property. I wouldn’t have blamed him for calling the police on me, or following me and telling me what I did wrong (after I had parked), because I definitely should have driven more slowly and I will be careful to do so in the future.
It’s still ironic that he would accuse me of being reckless after intentionally causing an accident and assaulting me. For all he knew, I could have been the kind of person looking for an opportunity to use a gun in self-defense. He’s lucky he attacked such a mild-mannered person.
The excuse he gave the police was that he was highly stressed out because his wife has a serious illness. If that’s true then she needs his reliable presence more than ever, which he can’t offer if he’s dead or in prison, so I hope he gets a handle on his anger soon. It’s got to be miserable to live that way, and not very pleasant for the people who live in his RV park either.
This part is pure speculation, but I wonder if politics had anything to do with it. This happened on January 21, the day after Biden’s inauguration. Could a 60-ish white male in conservative, rural Arizona have possibly been feeling a bit extra upset at that time?
I recently wrote an article about why I don’t travel with a gun. I explained that even if I was attacked, I wouldn’t want to have the option to kill someone. However, I wrote that at a time in my life when I’d never been assaulted.
Did this confrontation change my thoughts about traveling with a gun?
I had a bad day because of this assault, to be certain. I was quite shaken up. But by the next morning my adrenaline levels had returned to baseline and I was fine. Imagine how much worse it would have been if I’d killed a guy. That would have weighed heavily on me for years, if not for the rest of my life. And it would have ended his.
A gun may have given me a faster way out of a fearful situation, but in the end it resolved peacefully and we were both unharmed, a win-win for everyone involved.
I’ll continue to take my chances — even when traveling in such hazardous places as small-town Arizona.