Captain Jack Aubrey, co-hero of Patrick O’Brian’s excellent series of Aubrey-Maturin novels, spoke of his best days on the high seas for the Royal Navy in the early 19th century as “blue-water sailing.” Not glassy seas, but not dirty chop and contrary breezes either: instead, making way brightly, cutting a good wake in fair weather before a robust wind.
Our two-day drive last week from Orlando to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. was the interstate highway version of blue-water sailing. Unlike Capt. Aubrey, we were unburdened by any mission to thwart the navy of Napoleon’s France. Aubrey and his crew had a great incentive to be loyal and succeed, “as you will answer the contrary at your Peril,” according to the Royal Navy commissioning orders of the day.
No, we were joining family for Easter. This may not seem as important to the perpetuation of western democracy as deposing a diminutive despot. But trust me.
So when the driving is easy, it helps. Blue skies, dry roads, weekday traffic, good packed lunches, a place to stay on my wife’s sister’s farm halfway through — all great. Not a boarding pass, skycap, seat number, or lost bag in sight. Still, over the course of nearly 1,000 miles, one notices patterns of behavior in one’s fellows on the road. See how many of these people and practices you recognize from your voyages.
- The Bully. On two lanes of interstate, the left lane is for passing, unless the traffic in the right lane is so bad that maintaining safe following distance requires you to cruise in the left until things spread out a bit. Outside of that, cruising should be done in the right lane; I think we all can agree on that. But for the four or five seconds it takes to complete a pass, you should get a pass. If I’m going 73 in the left lane to pass a car in the right, maybe a guy coming up behind me can back it off a car length for that few seconds. If he gets right on my bumper, I’m gonna slow down. Because he’s an asshole, that’s why.
- The Quebecois Mobile Home Owners Club. The club resolution proposing that they all head north from their Florida lodgings at the same time passed on the first ballot. You know it’s still cold up there, right? And those things don’t drive like Subarus. Only vehicles I’ve ever seen that can drive in one lane and lean into another with less wind than it takes to lift a paper kite. (Ha! Just kidding! We love your dollars down in F-L-A! Bienvenue!)
- Connected — to Everything But the Car. Texting, emailing, writing the Great American Novel — all these things are now commonly done while piloting an automobile, if my recent observations are any evidence. I have seen a frightening number (one is enough to be positively haunting) of “drivers” working phones with all available digits while the wheel (yes! that round thing in front of you that actually controls where the car goes) remains unsullied by fingerprints. It’s enough to make you cruise in the left lane.
- The Lane-Pinner. Again on a two-lane, when a vehicle is entering from a ramp on the right — you know, the usual scheme for on-ramps and re-entries from rest areas — most decent drivers who are approaching the ramp’s entry point will slide left to allow the joining vehicle to rise to highway speed without interruption. Let ’em on; it’s only fair. But you can’t do that when another car comes up in the left lane and prevents you from moving over. You’re pinned. The left-lane blocker has no excuse; the entire scene is visible as it develops. All the hapless right-lane driver can do is brake and allow the entering car or truck in from the ramp, or keep on and look like a jerk to the entering vehicle. As usual, the butt in the left lane goes scot free.
On last week’s drive, I’m pleased to say that such bad actors were the exception and not the rule. All drivers have their moments. On the whole, though, we all got along. But the offenders described are at large, and worth watching out for. Let’s hope they come to their senses — or answer the contrary at their peril, not ours.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr
Photo by Adam Barr