Tuesday, October 05, 2004

I'm Sorry. Really.

I feel somehow that I must apologize to Orange County motorists today.

You see, I just got back from vacation. Driving on vacation is vastly different from driving every day to and from work. Driving on vacation means having license to hold back; not go quite so fast. Work driving means driving at speeds designed to make the nice men who occupy the black-and-whites somewhat annoyed.

Let me illustrate:

For the past two weeks, I have not had to drive the 22 miles each way to my office. I live in Anaheim, and my office is in Huntington Beach, perhaps 5 miles from the nearest beach. I drive the entire length of the notorious 22 freeway, but I manage to drive against the main flow at either end of the day, so the traffic never really gets that bad.

There are three lanes on this freeway. In the morning, the right lane, typically the slow lane on any freeway, averages between 60 and 62 miles per hour out of a 65 limit. Totally unacceptable to anyone but bobtail truck drivers and those who want desperately not to be noticed because they haven't had insurance on their vehicles since Carter was in office. In Georgia.

The center lane can typically reach 70 miles per hour. This is the invisible speed. The speed that cops don't notice even if you're driving right behind them, because they themselves are doing at least 70. In fact, chances are that if you're in front of a highway patrolman and are doing 70, the patrolman will pass you because you're slowing him down. He's gotta catch up to those idiots in the fast lane.

The fast (left) lane of this freeway, between 5:30 and 6:30 in the morning, reaches speeds of 80 miles per hour. It's as though these drivers woke up that morning and had this heart-pounding fear that their office was destroyed by arson the night before, so they must reach it immediately lest they miss the chance to watch it burn. This is the lane I typically drive, and I blush to admit that I frequently manage about 75 on average during the morning commute. This makes the 80-plus crowd angry like you wouldn't believe. My problem is that if I stay in the middle (70) lane for any length of time, I'm likely to wind up behind the one individual in all of Orange County who simply must, for holier-than-thou reasons, drive 65 in the middle lane. This same individual will at times do, say, 58, just for emphasis.

After a few weeks of this, my wife begins to fear getting in the same vehicle with me. She will gently remind me that while I do, technically, live in Orange County, she just knows in her heart of hearts that I am not an Orange County driver. I just have to behave myself at that point.

On vacation, though, everything is different. I generally don't have a schedule to keep while on the road, even for the longer hauls, so speed is no longer a concern. Which is just as well because we went north on this trip, and going north out of Southern California requires passing through the "Grapevine." The "Grapevine" is a steep sloping section of freeway that requires such things as "Out of Control Truck Ramps" that allow truckers to ditch their rigs after plowing into what appears to be the side of a cliff. However, since we begin our trip at more or less sea level, that means we need to climb upwards of 4000 feet of mountain before beginning this descent.

You ever try to go up a hill in a '97 Saturn SL-1, fully loaded? I hate it when Yugos pass me like that.

Anyway, my point is that I always try to keep a constant speed of no more than 5 mph over the posted limit. Once clear of LA County, the posted speed is 70, which means that I can cruise at 75 without fear of reprisal. This also means that I must stay in the right lane, because heaven forbid I should do 75 in the fast lane and get run over by a minimum of 72,831 SUVs out to prove that this baby can do 90 without breaking a sweat! Not that I'm bitter.

So there I sit, doing 75 all the way up the interstate, occasionally passing trucks and generally acting like a responsible motorist. It can be very addicting. After a week or more of this behavior, coming back to the real world can be quite a culture shock.

Which brings me to my apology.

I can't tell you how many times during the course of a week I sneer, snarl, and bark at other drivers on the freeway because they just can't go fast enough to stay out of my way. My 21 year old Honda, I growl, can idle faster than you're going, for Pete's sake! Get a move on! So how fast was I going this morning?

70 in a 65 zone. Shameful, I realize, but I plead lack of detox time from my vacation. I did manage to stay in the middle lane, though, so I felt somewhat justified. Still, I could feel the Resentment Rays emanating from passing motorists that came up behind me and felt obligated to veer into one of the other lanes to show just how pathetically slow I was going this morning.

So I apologize. I didn't mean to slow you down this morning. I really didn't. I just sorta got used to driving in a rational manner.

Oh, well. I suppose it's possible that soon (probably sooner than I'd like) I'll be back to my old habits, staring down my opponents and trying to jockey for prime freeway real estate.

In the meantime, I'll try to hold onto this new cruising speed for awhile. See how long I can keep it going. Maybe keep my sanity that much longer.

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