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Friday, January 6, 2006

Driving III: Brake Not, Lest Ye Be Beaten

Okay, about the exit and entry ramp. We all face the challenge of adjusting to those around us. Some of us, like the Unabomber, fail miserably. Others, like Regis Philbin, are annoyingly good at it. Still others, like Dick Clark, or my own child Caleb, adjust nary a bit, but let the world mold itself to them. These are the golden children, happy and oblivious.

But for most of us, there is some change required from time to time. Some modification of our habits. A curbing of our wants. An acceptance of demands placed upon us. This is the nature of living in civilized society.

What this means in particular for those of you attempting to join freeway travelers by way of an entry ramp, is that sometimes you just have to slow down and wait.

Stop right there. You, in the back, the one who thinks he knows something about driving, the one getting ready to assert that people entering the highway need to accelerate, for crying out loud, not slow down. You know who you are. Shut your piehole and listen for a minute.

Of course acceleration is necessary, when there is space. But acceleration is foolish and wrong -- yes, wrong -- when it slings you up next to a line of cars, some of which are trying to exit. In that circumstance, dear driver, it is incumbent upon you to adjust your speed so that you slip in behind the people exiting.

Otherwise, there is chaos. A free-for-all. The red tooth and claw of primitive man comes rushing to the surface, and we are once again thrown back into the state of nature after the Fall but before toilet paper.

Entry-ramp protocol is one of the most difficult skills to understand and master, so you are forgiven if you've spent thirty years cursing at people exiting in front of you while you try to accelerate into traffic. Mend your ways, go forth and sin no more. The yield sign is there for a reason. Look it up.

And now for you muddleheaded do-gooders who think you are doing your fellow man a good turn by slowing down so he can enter the freeway. Look in your rearview mirror. See all those people behind you? Do you know what they do when they see you hit your brakes? They brake. Do you know what that causes a half-mile back? A seemingly random braking, which in turn causes a panicked overreaction, which results in an accident. Like many people in the world, you may think you are helping your fellow man, but in reality you are inflicting damage. You're like Greenpeace, or one of those mothers who always cleans up after her kids.

Save it for the UNICEF can. Keep your altruistic foot off the brake and drive. Better yet, if you don't need to exit, get out of the bloody right lane. But be sure to stay out of the left lane, because some of us have places to be. You are a middle-lane driver, my friend, the one who reports 12 hours before the election that he still hasn't made up his mind, the one who always chooses "5" on a ten-point scale, the one who voted for Clinton but never really liked him, the one who thinks we ought to reform things but for heaven's sake be really careful about it. You go to bed by 11pm and you like Leno. It's okay. Just stay in your middle lane, and nobody has to get hurt.

But step on that brake to let one more driver onto the highway, and there's going to be trouble.

posted by Woodlief | link | (11) comments

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Driving, Deux

I feel a host of driving missives boiling up, reminiscent of my series of critiques of libertarianism a few years back, also affectionately known as "The Great Ayn Rand Beat Down of 2002."

So let's talk about a sub-species of the animal known as "Parkius Leftius," or what is in the common vernacular often referred to as "Passing Lane Slow-Poke," "The Speed Challenged," and my personal favorite, "That &%!$!! Idiot in Front of Me."

The sub-species of which I speak is the lowest of the low. He camouflages himself as a passing lane slow-poke until you get some clear space in the right lane to move comfortably around him and resume your speed.

Then he speeds up.

That's right, he races you to ten, fifteen, even twenty miles over the speed limit, until you have to get back behind him because you've come to another string of people in the right lane.

Then he slows back down.

Let's do a thought experiment. Imagine you are in Nazi Germany, or Stalinist Russia. Do you have any doubt that this little man -- and it's almost always a man -- would be gleefully working the machinery of oppression?

He is a closet dictator, an iron-fisted tyrant stuck in the body of a seemingly innocent American motorist. He wants you behind him, under his thumb and, in my case, very nearly under his bumper, because he is H. L. Mencken's definition of a Puritan: "Someone who is desperately afraid that, somewhere, someone might be having a good time."

He probably votes for mandatory recycling and kicks his dog. He believes homeschooling should be outlawed. He thinks it's good to soak the rich, unless he happens to be driving a Lexus, in which case he thinks it's good to soak the poor in the form of higher subsidies for PBS and sports arenas. He supports mandatory voting laws, eminent domain, restrictive zoning, hate speech penalties, Astro-turf, the Drug War, restricted toilet flushing capacity, China's right to regulate the Internet, and those irritating little tags on your pillows. He shops regularly at Hobby Lobby and wears golf pants. He secretly calls the neighborhood association because he thinks your hedges are too high.

He is the mandarin of his own imaginary world, and for those brief but interminable minutes when he has you behind him in the passing lane, he is your miserable little king.

I like to think that all those cases of road rage we used to read about were simply a string of would-be dictators getting their comeuppance. I mean really, when you read about someone getting shot on the highway, why do you assume he didn't deserve it?

Yes, it was a stressful drive to work today. But it only took 15 minutes, because I no longer live in Gomorrah.

Our topic for next time: The Entry and Exit Ramp, or, Who That Yield Sign is Really There For.

posted by Woodlief | link | (8) comments

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Driving Instruction

Did you know I used to drive professionally? There are all kinds of interesting secrets I keep from you. It's all part of the mystique, the allure that keeps you coming back to Sand in the Gears.

What kind of driving, you ask? Not racing, though my Bug once beat a raggedy '76 Mustang off the line on Stratford Road in Winston-Salem. No, I drove the big rigs.

That's right, school buses. Diesel automatics, four-in-the-floors, those sweet activity buses with the governor set at 45 instead of 35 -- I drove 'em all. I had to pass grueling tests and demonstrate my prowess in situations that would make a lesser man wet himself.

Which I almost did once while stuck at 35 mph on a long stretch of bumpy road after a large Dr. Pepper, but that's another story.

The point is, I know from driving. So consider this a public service announcement, directed at that portion of the driving public in serious risk of a severe beat-down from yours truly.

Specifically, the passing lane. Which is for passing. Funny how the name follows the function, huh? You see, some of us need to get somewhere. I'm not one of those nuts doing 15 miles over the speed limit. Well, sometimes I am. But if you're in the passing lane and doing a respectable five or six over the limit, I can bide my time a respectful distance behind you. My issue is with those who only do the speed limit in the passing lane, or worse, drive below the speed limit.

You are in the bloody way. Move.

I have half a mind to get one of those big tubular metal thingies for the front of my truck, just for ramming the next Sunday-driving-on-Monday-morning-my-aren't-the-flowers-growing-in-the-median-lovely slow-poke turtle-blooded turf crawler who gets in my way. Give me a jury of my peers -- my real peers, not the people who sit on really important trials and always seem to screw them up -- and I think I'd have a good shot at being vindicated.

And it's not that I'm in such an all-fired hurry to get anywhere; a wife and three children have accustomed me to being late. It's just the inconsideration involved in camping out in the left lane without regard to the long line of cars piling up behind you. It's just rude. Move. Move. We don't tolerate this sort of nonsense from our toddlers when we need to pass by in the hallway, and we darn sure don't need to tolerate it from adults who ought to have been taught better by now.

I have no problem with going back to prison, people. So consider yourself warned.

posted by Woodlief | link | (13) comments