When I was growing up, we spent a lot of time on the road. Sometimes it was visiting family, sometimes it was on vacation, or making that six hour annual trip to Gettysburg every summer. My father would constantly remark that “It isn’t any fun to drive anymore.” I never understood why until I began my extensive career on the road.
To quickly rehash my road-resume, I’ve done two trips from Florida to NY, one trip across country and back, valued at 7500 miles in eleven days, my old job used to have me put in anywhere from 150-200 miles a day between clients, my wife used to live an hour and a half away when we were dating, and I’d visit as often as I could, I’ve done countless trips to Pennsylvania on my own, and have crossed and recrossed NY from east to west and back again more times than I can count. I’ve driven through major cities like Boston, New York, Orlando, Seattle, Chicago, Milwaukee, and more. I’ve literally done every single mile of I-90 at one time or another from Seattle to Boston. I’ve been on major highways in over half the the states in the Continental U.S., and I’ve witnessed drivers from damn near everywhere….and most of this was before I turned 30. In just over a decade of driving, I’ve managed to log this sort of experience. (I didn’t license until I was 18, rather than the usual 16.)
I love to drive. I really do. I’ve cruised in new cars and limped home in bangers, and every trip has a story.
But the more and more I drive, the more I realize that my father had a point so many years ago. Driving can be no fun, and it often has to do with other drivers.
There’s a lot of snark anywhere you go about one place having worse drivers than everywhere else, and it is total bunk. People from New Jersey take a lot of heat from the populace in the Northeast for being the worst drivers around. The truth of the matter is, the worst driver ANYWHERE….is anyone on the highway at any given time.
Nowhere else will you find a complete disregard for basic human decency and common sense such that you will on an interstate.
Rudeness and self-centered activity are so commonplace on the road that if you don’t drive in a similar fashion, you’ll become a smouldering pile of ash and twisted metal on the shoulder somewhere. Driving on an interstate is like living in a bad neighborhood. Get tough and mean, or you’re in trouble. If you drive defensively, it is an exhausting procedure, because you’re constantly on the lookout for potential trouble drivers.
I’ve seen cars on merge lanes have to come to a complete stop on a posted 65 MPH highway because nobody from the right lane will bother to move into the left lane and let them merge.
I’ve watched two trucks leisurely pass each other at speed differences of about 1 mile an hour, stacking traffic up behind them for miles.
I’ve seen people line up in the passing lane to overtake a slower driver, only to have some dingbat fly up the right lane and horn himself into the line of people patiently waiting their turn to pass.
I’ve watched people pass ON THE SHOULDER to get around someone else.
There are tailgaiters, speed freaks, passing-lane hogs, elephant races, pushers, and more. It is so bad in NY, that we don’t have the common decency to move out of the right lane for the safety of emergency vehicles that might be parked on the right shoulder….we had to make a law. That law still gets ignored.
Occasionally though….in this lawless wild frontier that is the interstate highway, there is a glimmer of hope, a small token that reminds you that decency may still exist, even in a place like this.
– Like when that line of cars in the left passing lane suddenly tighten up and fail to let the speed freak jerk in the right lane wedge himself in to traffic:
Or, my absolute favorite is when you find another driver that you can make a connection with. I’ve done long drives where there’s another car heading in the same direction as me for an extended period of time. An unspoken bond may sometimes be formed and you start to function as a team. Letting each other pass, or holding traffic a bit so the other one can get into the passing lane…little things like that. You may never even make eye contact with the other driver, but for miles- or even hours, you play off of each other, stay tight, and ally against the lunacy that is the highway around you.
My point today really, is that the highway is a strange place. It is part Wild West, part lawless post-apocalyptic wasteland, and part demolition derby at times. But there is also occasionally a tiny glimpse of humanity. Rare amongst the overwhelming majority of people out there who are driving for themselves, everyone else be damned.
I’d love to tell you that I am a constant courteous driver and that my tactics are strictly defensive in nature. But I’d be lying. There isn’t a soul out there who hasn’t had a moment or two or six where they feel a primal urge to slam the accelerator down and blow the doors off of some nimrod who is traveling the passing lane at ten miles an hour under the speed limit. We’ve all done it.
I try to do it less when I have the boys in the car. For two reasons.
First, they’re safety is obviously very important.
Secondly….well, I don’t feel like having to explain what some of the words I’m using mean.