every some point on a long drive, the radio fades, you’re tired of whatever you brought to amuse you via the iPod, the old CD you didn’t know was in the car (“Let it Bleed”) has been played twice, and then you turn to your inner resources.
(Five years ago or so, I instituted a summer reading requirement for Kate. For this, she was teased relentlessly by some pinhead little brat from around the way. I overheard Kate defending herself one day: “My mom wants me to have inner resources!” she protested. Can’t say that it worked, down the road. The adjustment to camp that flipped her out the most? Giving up her phone and iPod for TEN WHOLE DAYS.)
It would also seem you also start writing in the second person. Let’s stop that.
Anyway, I was deep in a reverie about something, perhaps related to “Let it Bleed,” when I moved into the orbit of another driver. I was traveling 75, on cruise control. He was traveling 73. I came up behind him to pass on the left. He didn’t move. I gave him a minute or two. He didn’t move. So I went around him on the right.
I HATE doing that. I’m told it’s legal in Michigan to pass on the right if there’s another escape option for the passed driver — basically, if they’re in the center lane of a multi-lane freeway. Most of the freeways around here are like that, so everyone does it, and assumes it’s just legal, period. Certainly the police don’t seem to enforce it. Even after six years, it still freaks me out, and I still hate it. People need to be aware of their speed relative to the flow of traffic, and adjust their lane accordingly. You know, the way I do. Needless to say, the world isn’t perfect, and all our automotive technology serves to do in the grand scheme of things is insulate a driver better from the road around him or her. (A few years ago, a toddler in Detroit died when her neck was caught between the back-seat window and its frame, a confusing and tragic turn of events that raised more questions than any account of it ever answered. It took long minutes for her to suffocate, during which her grandmother — seated, what, 18 inches away? — failed to notice the child was in distress. In what may be the world’s only instance of a useful, clarifying comment left on a newspaper website, a woman who claimed to have witnessed the incident said the driver was listening to recordings of a charismatic preacher at an ear-splitting volume, which continued to play as she finally got a clue and stopped, and the scene descended into chaos. What a fucking surreal sight that must have been.)
Anyway, I passed him. Two minutes later, he passed me on the left, going downhill. Then resumed going two miles per hour slower, still in the left lane.
Options: Speed up to 80, leave him in the dust, put a wide berth between Mr. Left Lane and myself. Or hold my course and speed and growl a little. Guess which one I chose? Do you think I’m an angry person?
I once drove from Fort Wayne to Philadelphia with a co-worker who hated the right lane. “I’m afraid I’m going to hit the guardrail,” she said. I pointed out that we were driving my Honda CRX, a two-seater the approximate size of a roller skate, and that we could put another one abreast of us in the same lane and still not even come close to the guardrail. I mentioned the rules of the road, and safety. This took about the first 30 minutes of her driving leg, and none of it worked. “I guess it’s just one of my quirks,” she said, as drivers passed on the right, throwing furious scowls at us, every one of which was felt by me, the passenger. I tried to perfect an expression that said, “Sorry, but she’s got this phobia; what can you do?” It mixed a half-inch shrug with a demi-eye roll, and wasn’t particularly successful. The next time we stopped for gas, I took the wheel, and did most of the driving thereafter.
Mr. Left Lane passed me again when I had to cancel the cruise for a knot of slower trucks. The hue of his skin and the little Mexican flag he had dangling from the rear-view suggested that perhaps he learned to drive in another nation. Well. That explains everything, doesn’t it, Left-Lane Ortega? Your formative years were spent motoring in Mexico City, and you don’t know that on a wide, well-maintained American freeway, you DO NOT CRUISE IN THE LEFT LANE. THE LEFT LANE IS FOR PASSING. Didn’t anyone teach you that? I thought for a while about the crowded world cities I’ve been in (not many), and how crazy the traffic was. Coming into Buenos Aires from the airport in 2003, the driver of our van took us down the Avenida 9 de Julio, 9 de Julio being Argentina’s independence day but there’s also about that many lanes going in each direction. Wikipedia says seven. I say bullshit. There appeared to be at least 20. Driving it was colorful enough, but crossing as a pedestrian was insane. The light changed, and if you sprinted, you could make it to the median before waiting out another cycle to cross the 20 lanes on the other side. I imagine, if you were driving there, or someplace like it, you wouldn’t pick up the usual courtesies about lane usage.
Another memory from 2003: A fellow Fellow at U of M called her cell and retrieved a voice mail from a friend in Cairo, saying, “We miss you.” To end the message, her friend held his phone up to the traffic noise for a full minute. It made her laugh, and she played it for a fellow Middle East traveler. “Nothing like it,” he said. “Just one long honk, all the time.”
I was considering all this, then surfaced to look for Left-Lane Ortega. Nowhere in sight. He’d exited while I was constructing this elaborate narrative about his sub-par driving skills. And I hadn’t noticed. Oh, well.
Shortly thereafter, it was time to catch my own exit and deposit Kate at camp. I left her in the rehearsal space, where she had to audition for the grand sorting of skills. All around were kids honking saxes and trumpets, her fellow jazzbos. And that was the last I’ll see her until a week from Sunday, although I hope she’ll write.
And it seems I’ve run out of time with this ridiculous run-on blog entry. Eleven hundred words about driving? Who am I, James Lileks?
Just one bit of bloggage:
A new book, a “cultural history of shoplifting,” which interests me because it’s one crime I never, ever indulged in. Nothing is more chickenshit than thievery, in my opinion, but your mileage may vary.
Have a great weekend, all. It’s already in progress, here.