Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lessons In Interstate Driving 4/8/09

On a two day, thousand-mile drive to Florida last Friday and Saturday, it occurred to me that driving behavior has changed since the days I learned to drive in the 1970s.
Out of shear boredom, I conducted a highly biased sociological study of Interstate driving. My findings are below.
Lesson #1: “75 is the new 55.”
At some point passing through Tennessee when I had the cruise control set at 80 – and exasperated drivers were passing me on the right – cutting in and out of the right two lanes, I shock my head and said, “They’ve got to be going 90 or 95.”
Greta looked up from her book and said, “75 is the new 55.”
Amen, sister. And I’m as guilty as anyone.
We remain in an era of accelerated instant gratification. “I wanna be there, and I want it right now!” The journey is to be tolerated. The destination is our birthright.
Lesson #2: The “fast lane” is a dead concept.
When I was a kid the fast lane was a place where faster traffic went past slower traffic. When a faster driver approached a slower moving car, the slow guy noted this approaching reality and courteously moved to the right.
Today the fast lane has become a promise of swiftness that rarely pays off.
Think of the intermittent reward of gambling. People throw away their money gambling because, well, they won once, and so they keep playing and losing, waiting for another big payoff.
Likewise, people line up in the far left lane, beating the steering wheel with their palm, wondering what the hold up is. They got in the fast lane a time or two, long ago and actually went fast, and so they hope against hope that once that blockage opens up, they’ll be zipping along smoothly.
By giving up and slipping into the center lane I made it past the front of that line a few times on the way down here and so can tell you first hand what the various blockages are.
Blockage #1: Drivers absorbed in a cell phone conversation, unaware that they’ve stacked up traffic behind them.
Blockage #2: Elderly drivers who have forgotten the point of the fast lane and come to see it as just another lane. When you finally pass and give them the stink-eye, they look back and gesture to the other lanes like, “Hey, there are three lanes. They’re all the same. I chose this one. You choose yours and get off my back.”
Blockage #3: Long-haul zombies – not truckers, but forlorn Midwesterners in Civics and aging mini-vans who decided to drive non-stop all the way through. They’re just staring ahead with swollen eyes, mouths agape, half mesmerized/half lost, and way, way past caring that there’re a line of 20 or 30 defeated drivers behind them.
Blockage #4: Me. People like me are indignant as hell and don’t care if you’re irritated. We’re already going fast, dammit. And however fast that is, well buddy, that ought to be fast enough for anybody! “If you don’t like it, next wide open break in the center lane, I might get over for you, but it will have to be wide open – it can’t cost me a moment.”
Lesson #3: SOBs + Enablers = Injustice
There is a class of driver so despicable they don’t deserve even the smallest courtesy. They are the “SOB Driver.”
How to spot the SOB: There is road construction ahead and you’ve had ample warning that a lane must merge left. As you near the final merge, drivers have all lined up. But here comes the SOB barreling past the line on what’s left of the dying lane. He (and it’s always a he) pulls to the front of the line, puts on his turn signal and waits to be let in.
Which brings us to The Enabler. This is typically a hybrid whose enabling tendency combines with their #1, or #2 Blockage tendencies. It’s The Enabler who lets the SOB in ahead of everyone who followed the rules.
As I merged dutifully in line in Southern Georgia watching an Enabler allow an SOB in a pick-up truck to slip in ahead of us all, I realized it’s Enablers who also spoil petulant children, and who allowed Hitler to consolidate power in 1930s Germany,
Me, Mr. Blockage #4 will be joining the other players in a mad retracing of our steps this coming Saturday. Wish me well.

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