On a two thousand mile drive to Alabama, Florida and back home last month it occurred to me that driving behavior has changed since the days I got my license back in the ‘70s.
|My chariot, captured mid-journey in my sister's driveway|
in Chuluota, Florida. It's a great vehicle for turning the
slow lane into a make-shift fast lane.
Out of shear boredom, and admittedly, more than a little impatient frustration, I conducted a highly biased traffic study of Interstate driving habits. These are my findings.
Lesson #1: “75 is the new 55.”
At some point passing through northern Alabama I recognize that nobody, and I do mean nobody, is going the speed limit. The old oil-crisis-Nixon mandate of 55 mph that was in place when I started driving seems quaint in retrospect. In those days I used to fudge the 55 mph law by setting the cruise control at 62.
We’re in an era of accelerating instant gratification. “I wanna be there, and I wanna be there right now!” The journey is to be tolerated. The destination is our birthright. We’re in our little living room on wheels; comfy chairs, stereo, smart phones feeding us email, music and social media updates, video screens mounted on the ceiling – the entitled Ugly American at our ugliest.
Now, if the posted limit is 70, my fellow drivers and I have cruise control set at 85. Just like original Oreos, old school IPAs, and 1950s ranch homes weren’t enough for Americans and needed to be “doubled,” mph over the speed limit have doubled, too.
Lesson #2: The “fast lane” is a dead concept.
When I was a kid the fast lane was a place where faster traffic actually went past slower traffic. When a faster driver approached a slower moving car, the slow guy noted this approaching reality in his rear-view mirror and courteously moved to the right. In the Midwest, this disappeared along with bell bottoms and disco. I wouldn’t even be surprised if a state-by-state study showed Hoosiers are the worst at moving over for faster traffic.
As I drive south, I'm always reminded that the mid-south is more courteous than the mid-west at getting over. It improves in Kentucky. Courtesy appears around Louisville and stays strong well through Georgia. But once you get into Florida, that social contract falls apart again and as in Indiana, the fast lane is once more clogged with slow fuckers just don’t care if it bugs you.
Today the fast lane has become a promise of swiftness that rarely pays off. It’s a bit of a status claim, too: everybody thinks they belong there. Only losers poke along in the slow lane.
And the fast lane is a place of hope. Think of the intermittent reward of gambling. People throw away their money gambling because, well, they won once, and so keep playing and losing, certain the next big payoff is right around the corner. Likewise, people line up in that far left lane, beating the steering wheel with their palm, wondering what the hold up is. Long ago they got in the fast lane a time or two and actually went fast, and so they hope against hope that once that blockage opens up, they’ll be zipping along smoothly.
Hurdling through central Florida on I-4 with my sister, the fast lane was bumper-to-bumper as far as the eye could see, yet the “slowest” lane to the right was totally – I'm not kidding, totally empty. We gave up hope and slipped into the far right lane and blew by the front of that line over and over again (yes, I’ve become one of those drivers). As a result, I can tell you first hand what the various blockages are at the front of that so-called fast lane.
Blockage A: Drivers texting, or so absorbed in a cell phone conversation they momentarily lost connection with where they are and why. You can see them alone in the front seat, talking urgently into their phone or a Bluetooth headset, sometimes gesturing wildly to the disembodied caller on the other end.
Blockage B: Elderly drivers who have forgotten the point of the fast lane and, and like most Hoosiers have come to see it as just another lane. They’re driving along, slow and happy, hugging that left-hand guardrail. 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 C: Long-haul Zombies – not truckers, but forlorn, straight-thru drivers in Civics and aging mini-vans who decided to drive non-stop all the way. They’re just staring ahead, eyes swollen, mouths agape, half mesmerized/half lost, steeped in second-hand diesel fumes and way, way past caring that there’re a line of 20 or 30 defeated drivers stacked up behind them.
Blockage D: Self-righteous Drivers. They’re indignant as hell and don’t care if you’re irritated. They’re already going 5 mph over the speed limit, dammit! And, “For the love of God, 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 (or an ounce of pride).”
Lesson #3: SOBs + Enablers = Injustice
There is a class of driver so dispicable they don’t deserve the smallest courtesy. They are the “SOB Driver.”
How to spot the SOB: There’s road construction ahead and you’ve had ample warning that a lane is ending and you must merge. As you near the final merge, drivers have all lined up. But here comes the SOBs 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 Blockage 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 merge instructions.
I merged dutifully in line south of Louisville, watching an Enabler allow an SOB in an urban assault vehicle force his way in ahead of us all. Steaming a little, I started mentally listing Enablers: those who spoil petulant children, those who pick up cigarettes at the store for their smoking friends (who really ought to quit), those who quietly clean up after slobs without complaint, those who subscribe to Comcast despite its obvious status as pure evil, and those who allowed Hitler to consolidate power in 1930s Germany,
Why didn’t I just fly? I’d be drinking a gin and tonic and reading Rolling Stone magazine.