A cursory examination of obese tailgaters

I had a friend once who was one of those “high school through college freshman but lose track after” guys. In high school, he effortlessly earned the title of Fattest Student. He was immense and he was one of my best friends. He liked science fiction and other assorted asocial proclivities. Using the modern BMI calculation (which I’m not even sure was in use in 1980), he was in the 45.0 range. I’m being generous. I guessed low on weight and high on the height. He was a huge guy and after graduation I paid a visit to his college town near L.A. We kicked back, talked shameless nerd talk, drove around…those post high-school college days are truly idyllic. I was weaning myself from the structure of civic-imposed Minor status. I discovered the freedom to do what the hell I wanted because I was 18. We ate lunch at Fuddruckers and the waitress was flirty with me. I remember this because it meant so much to me. At the time I was running low on self-esteem and positive-feedback reserves. Afterward, my friend drove us around the hick town in his old mini pick-up. He drove us up and down hills of dried and golden grass and at one point, we ended up behind a slow-moving car. My friend didn’t seem to care or feel impelled to obey any sense of personal space because he rode on that car’s tail for miles (there were no turnoffs and it was a single lane). We were at point where you finally decide to hang back and not force the issue. So what? The person in front of you is driving slower than you. Live with it. We were college freshmen in between quarters. It was a beautiful day. He was riding the car in front of us really hard. I started to get uncomfortable and my friend just kept on talking and cruising up the car’s tailpipes. I don’t remember how long it took before we were finally separated, but my sense of relief was strong both for myself and the guy in front of us. I hate tailgaters and I hate it when they are my friend.

In my subsequent driving years, I was both passenger and driver countless times. After such a protracted period of experience, you can’t help but form general observations, and one that was driven (so to speak) home last week was this. Obese people are the most aggressive tailgaters.

Last week I pulled into the parking structure and here you must refrain from blatant road rage because it’s possible you actually work with the offensive person who drives like shit. As I pulled onto the second level, this Jetta pulled up behind me, determined to scale the floors with the maximum speed possible. As opposed to myself who really doesn’t give a crap. In fact, my First Personal Commandment is “Thou shalt never rush to work.” And I uphold the commandment. Rushing to work is for losers. It either means, 1) You are a sloth who cannot wake up on time, or 2) You are a corporate rat trained to run until your heart explodes once you are on their property. I sped up a little, but not much. The car stayed close behind me and finally I reached the spot I like and the car flew by, finally freed of my snail’s pace. I crawled out of my car, as is normal, and gathered my lunch bag and other belongs and headed to the stairwell and happened to look up and sure enough, exiting the Jetta was my company’s fattest employee. A woman about my age who everyone likes but whose girth supersedes all. As I descended the stairs it occurred to me she was the one tailing me up the ramps. It reminded me of chubby friend from college, and interestingly, two other obese drivers I know of who seem are prone to the most egregious sort of tailgating, the sort where you are literally up the car’s tailpipe. I saw a pattern.

I know of two other cases of obese tailgating, one in which I was the victim and another in which I was the passenger. When you consider that obese people do not comprise that large a portion of the populace, it’s interesting that the few I’ve seen behind the wheel tend to be aggressive, up-your-rear-axle drivers. Now I’m not in the business to only raise questions, but to attempt vague and unfulfilling responses to my many queries about observable life. What is it about the obese personality that indicates aggressive tailgating?

Firstly, I don’t believe obese people are really “aggressive” drivers in the truest sense of the word. The only prototypical aggressive driving trait I’ve observed in obese subjects is aggressive tailgating. I’ve not noted other aggressive driving behaviors among the obese. Tailgating seems to be a commonality that joins obese drivers. They share a casual disregard for mutual respect and space on the road. Tailgating is essentially a passive-aggressive activity because it is widely known that doing so doesn’t alter the driving behavior of the tailgatee, but merely transmits dissatisfaction with a dose of odious behavior. Tailgating is akin to an eyeroll and a sigh, but expressed within the disconnected realm of vehicular road-sharing traffic. Driving as a shared activity is expressed passively/aggressively. It’s kinda like the overbearing Chinese customer behind me in the grocery story line who is nearly standing on my heels even though we are both waiting for the same cashier and progress only depends on the speed with which the front customer’s order is processed. There is no benefit to rushing within the line because you cannot speed up beyond the limits of the end of the line. Likewise, tailgating rarely causes anyone to go “faster” and is weakly symbolic.

I think obese people have internalized the evocation of disgust from others to such a degree that they have become desensitized to the offensiveness they trigger. Offensive tailgating is an extension of this behavior and whereas it may present a shameful expression to the non-obese driver, the obese person merely considers their behavior within the normal purview of their daily effect on others. There is an element of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in this behavior. To be obese, or to reach such a state, involves a degree of surrender. Surrender to the extent that one’s life becomes a march of self-defacement. With such a self-directed sense of hopelessness, you can’t help but externalize noxious emotions that normal people might withhold since they are not acclimated to evoking such feelings in others. In other words, you don’t worry that driving up the other person’s rear axle means much, personally. You are fat and you don’t care about offending because it is…you.