A stand for principle, bumper to bumper
SAN DIEGO — It was a Sunday afternoon and I was headed with my two children to the science center downtown. The parking lot was packed, but outside on the main road was a perfect spot. I drove my minivan just ahead of it, put my blinker on and began to back in.
That's when I saw the Ford Explorer quickly nose in behind me. Two men sat in the front seat.
I stuck my head out the window, and said, "I'm already in this spot, sorry."
The 30-something driver yelled out to me, "No you're not. Baby killers can't have this spot."
What the ....? I thought. Baby killer?
"I don't know what's going on, but I had this spot before you. Back out," I said.
And with his front end and my back end sharing the spot, he got out of the car, his friend sitting smugly in the passenger seat.
I got out of my minivan. "Sit here," I said to my children - 5 and 7 - before I walked toward the man.
The kids were holding hands now, frightened and worried. "What's happening?" asked my daughter. "Why isn't he moving his car? Why did he say baby killer?"
"I don't know. There must be some misunderstanding," I said, patting her hand. "It'll be OK."
The driver and I faced each other and he motioned to one of my bumper stickers. This one said "I Vote Pro-Choice." There's another, "Save ROE NOW" that also might have offended him.
He spat words at me through clenched teeth. "You're a baby killer! You're a baby killer!"
Me? I thought. What babies have I killed? I have two living children sitting right there in their mandated safety seats. Was all this because of a pro-choice bumper sticker? I was furious.
We screamed at each other, both refusing to budge, when I decided to teach the guy a lesson. You can't just stop traffic and harass people because you disagree with their bumper stickers.
I called 911. And as I recounted to the police what was happening I was asked if the man had a weapon. That's when it occurred to me this fanatic could have a rifle under the front seat. Maybe he would start ramming my minivan with his SUV. He had been so close to me, so angry, I thought briefly he might hit me. I knew his insults had become more venomous and that he had called me "a Jew" (an insult in his mind).
I quickly got back in my minivan and locked the doors.
At that moment my quandary was clear: Do I start the car and leave, rather than risk the safety of myself and my children, or do I stay and show my kids how important it is to stand up for what you believe?
I didn't want my daughter, especially, to see me cower. But I also didn't want us hurt. I sat there, staring at my cellphone, when my daughter began a high-pitched plea for her Elmo.
"Eeelllmmmo" she cried in a voice I hadn't heard before. "I need Elmo!"
I could hear helicopters overhead, then police cars surrounded us.
We all started crying.
"I don't want this man to think he can do this to someone, call them names and be mean to them just because he disagrees with them. You don't treat other people this way," I tearfully explained.
I felt I'd made a terrible mistake. I'd chosen to stand up for my beliefs, hoping my children would remember it and always stand up for theirs.
But now I doubt it had the intended effect.
The police informed me this man wasn't breaking the law; he was just being a pain in the neck. The police said hello to my children, and then told me I should go; the man in the Explorer was given a reprimand and asked to leave. That was it - no march downtown to the station, not even a ticket for blocking traffic.
And last week, from the back seat of the car we just bought to replace our old, ailing minivan, my daughter remarked how safe she felt, how "snuggly."
Then she added, "Please Mom, no bumper stickers on this one."
• Eilene Zimmerman is a freelance journalist.