have I been called "Ma'am" or "Madam" where
an argument doesn't follow. Generally it's used to signify impatience
by a stranger at the other end of the phone who has no intention
of being helpful. No matter how angry or frustrated I become, the
voice remains monotone. Attaching a mechanical "Ma'am"
gives the illusion of civility.
to drive while I was in LA recently, and every time I sat at the
wheel I could feel myself getting older. Apart from the glaring
sun and the monstrous Hummers, there are too many signs. People
shouldn't be expected to read and drive and change lanes and find
exits on highways that have 10 lanes - there's too much going
on. Times like these remind me that I'm not made for this world.
Naturally, I had an accident. I've always
thought the word "accident" is a bit understated for
what can happen to someone in a car. The way "disgruntled"
seems to be the wrong word to describe postal workers who go on
a rampage and shoot up the post office. I think of an accident
as doing something stupid, like spilling coffee on the floor.
It does not involve potential death.
But this time, accident was the perfect
word. I was on my way to a meeting and the instructions directed
me to an underground car park. I followed the sign and drove down
the steep ramp. Midway I noticed another sign that said: "Residents
only". Unable to turn around, when I got to the barrier at
the bottom I pressed the intercom button for the attendant. "May
I help you, Ma'am?" Trouble was imminent. "Yes,"
I replied. "Can you raise the barrier so I can turn around,
I'm in the wrong place." The voice responded: "Sorry,
Ma'am. I can't help you without ID." I asked how I was supposed
to turn around. Silence. "It's not safe to back up."
I pleaded. Silence.
Eventually I accepted that she wasn't going
to raise the barrier. I would have to drive through it or reverse
up the hill around a blind bend onto the road and risk getting
I'm not really a risk-taker. And backing
up a steep hill onto a busy road? It doesn't get much riskier
than that. I might as well have been wearing a blindfold too because
I couldn't see anything - right up to the point when I hit the
concrete barrier. Immediately, I switched from reverse to drive
and stepped on the gas, but the car wouldn't move. I could hear
screeching and scraping sounds, but as I wasn't hurt, how bad
could it be? Turns out, pretty bad. So bad, I couldn't open the
Later, my friend Julie was outraged when
I told her about it. "You should have taken her name and
said you were going to sue them for endangering your life. Or
you should have said your best friend was Michael Moore."
Apparently, that's her new weapon. It's
more effective than a lawsuit. She was having a problem with her
cable-TV company when she told them Michael Moore was her best
friend - they got so scared they not only fixed her problem but
took $100 off her bill.
There's a reason I don't drive. It's too
much responsibility. But also, there are people who belong at
the wheel - confident that they will get to their destination
safely. And then there are people like me. People who belong in
a taxi. The only "Ma'am" I don't mind is when it follows: