There is nothing more frustrating than to be behind someone driving slower than I want to drive – especially when they are well below the speed limit and in the left-lane. “Why!? Why?” I ask myself, does this idiot think he can block this lane. I’d like to take a few moments to explore this issue.
Last week, as I headed North on I-5, while on my way home from work, I came upon a car driving about 5 mph slower than the posted 60 mph in the left-lane. There were about 5 cars ahead of me, and one-by-one, each of these five cars pulled up behind the slow car, tailgated it for awhile, then in frustration, passed it on the right. I had been watching this for about 10 minutes when my turn came. My plan was to just avoid the car entirely and without slowing down, I would simply pass it on the right.
Unfortunately, as my turn approached, we reached the place where I-205 and I-5 merge, just north of Vancouver. Now, the right lanes were filled and I had no possibility to go around this jerk. I flashed my lights a couple of times, but there was no indication the driver even knew what he was doing. “You idiot!” I thought! Even in the darkness, I could tell the driver wasn’t looking in the mirror, trying to find a clear spot to pull over, or seemed even to have a clue that they were in the way.
I kept my distance for about five minutes – knowing that tailgating doesn’t work – especially for the clueless. But as time passed, I grew increasingly frustrated. When I finally had an opportunity to go around, I looked over, honked, and saw no reaction. This clueless, idiot – this jerk – was in a trance-like state of inattention. I fumed for several more miles before finally applying the Serenity Prayer and letting go.
When I was a kid, my Mom told me to wait in line and not take cuts.”
Here’s the funny thing though. When I do the math, I can only laugh at myself. During that 16 minutes of frustration and anger, I’ve lost less than a minute of time. It takes me over an hour to drive home – about 70 minutes, if I drive the speed limit – which I do. So, this imbicle, cost me 1.4% more time for my commute. Jerk!
A couple of mornings ago, I was driving south on Highway 30 – my other choice of commuting routes, and by far the prettiest and least stressful – and without warning, I became that “jerk.”
Most of Highway 30 is two-lanes, with very few opportunities to pass. However, once one enters St. Helens from the North, it is four lanes all the ay to Portland. Most people are pretty obedient of the speed limits from Rainier through Scappoose, but I don’t think it is because four or five people die in that stretch every year. No, I think it has more to do with heavier police patrols in those cities. However, the stretch of highway between Scappoose and NW Portland is a little like the old west – there is very little police patrol through there.
So, I have to ask myself, was it worth the stress and frustration?
I’m one who studies traffic patterns and tries to assume a low profile. I try hard to fit in, do the right thing, and obey the law – all at the same time. During the time I lived in Southern California, I ignored the posted freeway speed limits – it would be deadly not to – I just went with the flow and tried to avoid the shrapnel. The drive between Colorado Springs and Denver, on I-25 was a special experience that would require a doctoral thesis to explain. But here, in Oregon, on Highway 30, it’s pretty straight forward.
When I first began commuting between Rainier and Scappoose, I was very careful to follow the constantly changing speed limits. In the course of 35 miles, the speed would change from 30 to 40 to 50 to 55 to 50 to 55 to 50 to 55 to 50 – and that’s just between Rainier and Columbia City – the remaining changes were just as confusing and inconsistent. So again, I sat down and did the math. I found that driving 10% over the speed limit, in that 35 mile stretch, would only save about 2 minutes total between Rainier and Scappoose.
In the interest of safety, but more importantly, my stress level, I decided to enjoy the ride instead of pushing it. Besides, almost every day there was something new and beautiful to see. Elk, eagles, deer, sunrises, sunsets, wispy fog, rainbows, mountain peaks – it is a gorgeous drive. However, not everyone agrees with my philosophy.
I’ve had people pass me, in a no passing zone, just so they could fit in between me and the car driving the same speed ahead of me. Other times, I’ve had people tailgate me for miles, on the two-lane stretches – and when they finally get around me, they drive less than a mph, or so, faster than me – I was originally doing the speed limit, and apparently that wasn’t fast enough – but to tailgate me for 5+ miles, only to gain a mile or two faster speed? C’mon!?
In the course of my driving career, I’ve been able to classify several different types of people who plug up traffic in the left lane. I’ll admit up front that I fit one of these, but I’ll let you guess which one – your answer in the comments will be interesting.
- Clueless Clarence: Just puttin along, oblivious to the fact that other people may even be on the road. Sets his speed somewhere near the speed limit, and doesn’t change his speed when the limit changes. Completely unaware that other people are trying to negotiate around them. Your best choice is to get around them, don’t bother tailgating – they won’t notice anyway – and simply don’t get frustrated. Old age will strike you one day too.
- Temporary Tags Terri: Bent fender? Check. Broken taillight? Check. Temporary tags? Check? Donut spare? Check. Driving erratically? Check. Texting, talking, and drinking Big Gulp? Check. Stay away, stay far away.
- Blind-Spot Cuddler: This person just hates to drive alone. No matter how fast you drive, they will stay with you – usually in your blind spot (near your right, rear fender). Speed up and try to lose them, and they will speed up too. Slow down, and they will slow down too. Often you will see they are on their phones and they use you as a marker to stay on the road. The best way to lose this person is to speed up gradually, and then slow down suddenly. Once you have sling-shotted them ahead, you can resume your normal driving.
- Leisure Suit Larry: He’s stylin in his polyester disco clothes and the beat-up Firebird he could never afford right out of high school. Now that he’s come into some bucks, he was able to buy that 30 year old car that he’s always dreamed of. And now you will be impressed – but you better stay out of his way – especially when he’s high on meth. It’s best to just get out of his way and not anger him.
- Sunday Driver: Never in a hurry, life is good. Just enjoying the scenery and living in the moment. Compeletly unconcerned that others are in a hurry and headed to the private Hell they call a career. These people piss you off because of their air of serenity. Unfortunately, getting angry at them is only going to cause them to be more serene.
- Wrong Place, Wrong Time: This person is obeying all the traffic laws, is a responsible citizen, and isn’t really doing anything wrong. They just happen to be in your way – right now! And because your agenda is more important than there’s, you have every right to be angry.
- Arrogant Ignorance: While this person has no clue they are being arrogant, they still are. Making a right turn from the left turn lane, because you suddenly realized you needed to turn right, and not left, is just arrogant – even if you are ignorant. Forcing others to stop, because you missed your turn, and you are trying to squeeze through three lanes of traffic to get over to the C-Store beside the road, is just arrogant – even if you are ignorant as to how arrogant it is. Instead of inconveniencing everyone else, causing untold rear-ender traffic collisions, and being just plain dangerous – they should just make the next left-turn, circle the clock, or go up to the next exit. Sure, it will take a little more time, but not as much as they’ve just wasted of the other 35 cars around them.
- Frogger: In a big hurry, obviously, and tries very hard to get ahead in traffic. Passes cars on the left, or the right, and gets one car ahead every light. Arrives 10-15 seconds ahead of every car they passed. Meanwhile, caused untold confusion in their wake, massive frustration in the drivers that were tailgated, and ulcer causing stress in their own life.
- The Bulldozer: If you are in the lane this person is in, it doesn’t really matter how fast you’re going, or how much traffic there is, they will tailgate you. Nothing matters in their life, except to be ahead of you. They will tailgate you to the point where you are actually feeling pushed by the wave of air in front of their F-350 Power Stroke. In your mirror, you only see grill. It doesn’t matter that you’re already tailgating the person in front of you, and they the person in front of them. It doesn’t seem to make any difference that there is a line of cars between Hazel Dale and Oregon City, all doing a mere 61 mph, all in a hurry, and all trying to get to work on time – this guy behind you wants through. If you let him through, he’ll hound the next car, and the next, and the next – saving himself a whopping 10 seconds by the time he gets to his exit. If you pull over, you lose your place in line and get stuck in the slow lane, but if you don’t pull over, you risk your life and your family’s lives.
- Considerate Jerk: This person is so concerned about not offending anyone, that they stop when they shouldn’t, don’t merge when they should, and slow down when they should accelerate. Though they’ve happily befriended the one car that was the object of their affection, they are unaware that they have tied up traffic all around them. Sure, it’s good to let someone merge into traffic as they try to escape a gas station – but there is a time and place for everything. If all the cars are stopped, and one can easily let someone merge in, that is awesome. If all the cars are moving at a healthy 30 mph, don’t cram on your brakes to let them in. They can wait.
- Good drivers: These don’t exist. Research has shown that 85% of people consider themselves to be better than average drivers. Not only is it not true, it’s impossible.
Twice in the last week as I was commuting to, or from work, I found myself the object of someone’s wrath. Here’s my story:
Leaving the light in front of the Scappoose Fred Meyer story, headed into Portland, the speed limit is 45 mph. Some people know this, and some do not. Some people continue to drive 35 mph, as they did in Scappoose proper. Others are eager to get to work and are fairly confident they won’t encounter any cops in the 30 minute stretch of Highway 30. Some of us – a small minority, just want to obey the law and be safe.
Even when I was a promiscuous speeder, I was smart enough to let the pack sort itself out, before pushing the foot-feed and kicking in the afterburners. I realized that when leaving the starting gate, like the one in Front of the Fred Meyer store, there are some who gently allow their cars to get up to speed, there are others, who accelerate like jackrabbits, and there are still some who found themselves in the wrong lane – fast drivers in the right-lane, and slow drivers in the left-lane. It usually takes a couple of miles of patience to sort this all out. But by the time the speed limit is bumped up to 55 mph, at the Multnomah County border, everyone has usually figured out how fast they want to drive and what lane they want to be in.
For some, this is two miles of Hell, for others, it is two miles of fear, and for others, it is just another two miles of serenity in beauty of the Lower Columbia River basin.
When traffic is heavy, I try to put myself in the right-lane, so as to stay out of the way of the dozens who can’t seem to leave their house on time and are always late for work. Once traffic opens up, I can pass those who are a little slow, and go about my business. But on this one particular morning, my plans for a serene driving experience were blown out of the water.
I looked in my mirror and saw there was no one in the left lane, I turned on my blinker and changed lanes, planning to accelerate up to the posted speed limit and pass the slow-poke in front of me. As I pulled out and accelerated, I set the cruise control at 55 mph. When I glanced in my mirror, I saw a car about a mile back, slowly gaining on me. I wasn’t concerned, for I expected to be around the car in the right lane and able to move back into that lane again – allowing the law-breaker behind me to have the left-lane.
But this is where the story gets complicated. The car I was attempting to pass, was driven by a well-dressed businessman on a cell phone. As I pulled around him, he became a Blind-Spot Cuddler. He kept pace with me and I wasn’t able to get ahead of him. Just about the time I was far enough ahead to pull over in front of him, he would accelerate ever so slightly, and cut off my lead. In the meantime, the speed-demon felon behind me and closed the gap and was now tailgating me. What do I do?
- I too could accelerate, and thereby break the speed limit, and risk getting a ticket (of which I’ve not had one in over 20 years). This would jeopardize my job, my insurance rates, and my sobriety to speed. Not to mention, it is a moral issue for me. Seriously.
- I could slow down, and merge back into my place between the distracted cell phone using businessman. But this is going to take some effort. When I slowed down, so did the distracted cuddler. And it made the driver behind me really angry. (The words he mouthed, and the gestured he used, cannot be repeated here).
- Or, I could just choose to mind my own business, stay with the speed I feel morally compelled to follow, and let the cruise control do it’s work.
The pressure to change my course is intense. The man behind me is very angry at me. The guy beside me is completely oblivious to the fact that he’s the true cause of this little Ménage à trois. The guy behind me should be mad at the guy next to me. It’s not my fault that this guy beside me keeps accelerating and decelerating. He’s the one actually blocking the road, not me. Being mad at me is a true case of killing the messenger for delivering bad news. It is pure insanity.
Though I remain calm, I’m looking for a way out of this mess. This is why I checked my mirrors before leaving the safety of the right-lane – I didn’t want to be in this situation. I was actually planning ahead. I was leaving myself enough time to get out, pass, and pull back in. I’m not the bad guy here.
Just then the clueless cell phone user next to me, ends his conversation and puts the peddle to the metal. The stress lifts and I pull back into the right-lane, and the guy who was behind me glares and gestures like a drum major at the Rose Parade, then he accelerates all the way up to 5 mph over the speed limit. There was no woman in labor in the car with him. He was not a volunteer firefighter called to rescue burning babies. He just wanted to drive 60 mph, not 55 mph.
That’s when it occurred to me how this old cliché fits:
Your failure to plan, does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
On top of that, during the two miles that he was behind me, the time difference is probably barely measurable. It wasn’t worth the risk to life and limb – and it certainly wasn’t worth the stress to all involved.
I do my best to not create those sort of situations. I try to leave for work 15-30 minutes before I have to; I try to stay out of the way of people who want to break the speed limit; and I am not opposed to driving behind people going slower than I want to, while I wait for the traffic to clear out. All I ask, is that others give me the same consideration and patience if I accidentally block their path for a couple of miles. It’s not personal, I’m not trying to destroy your life, and I certainly won’t do it again.
Tuesday morning I found myself in front of someone who wanted to go faster than I was going. Although I was in a long line of traffic, and we all wanted to go faster, I pulled over and let him by. As he passed me, I realized it was my friend Mike – The Leather Guy, in his white Toyota pickup. I tried to catch up and wave to him. But everytime there was an opening to get up next to him, he accelerated – no doubt thinking I was just some idiot trying to cut in front of him.
After several attempts to pull along beside him, I finally found a spot where he couldn’t accelerate away from me. I pulled up beside him and honked and waved. He was oblivious. Never looked, never heard me, never acknowledged my presence. He was in a zombie-like trance that most sleep-deprived commuters assume. Just then he pulled off into the McDonald’s on NW St. Helens Rd.
What makes this even more funny is that the tailgating and maneuvering, like so many, has just become habit for some. In the time I pulled over to let him by, until he pulled into McMac’s, it was less than a mile – and he was no further ahead of me than when he was behind me.
I almost pulled in to say hi, but I would have had to make a left turn from the right lane, and that would have revealed my arrogant ignorance. Then I was going to call him on the phone – but just then I remembered that it is illegal to use a handheld electronic device while driving.
Instead, I just waited until I got to work to tweet the above quoted cliché…