Being the slow guy at 8 a.m. isn’t so bad

I admit it. Here in Northern Indiana, I am an aggressive driver. I don’t set land speed records, nor weave in and out of traffic, no weaving at all, really, but I do drive at, or slightly above, the speed limit. I drive 4 or 5 mph over when I can. I accelerate when the light turns green and get impatient behind anyone who seems to be more interested in taking in the scenery than actually trying to arrive somewhere.

In my native Massachusetts, I’m probably a typical driver. After all, Northeast drivers generally fit our national definition of aggressive. When you’re actually considered aggressive there, you’re most likely a raving, lunatic driver. I am not that. I’m not a speed demon, either. I do not exceed the highway speed limit when driving up the entrance ramp (as Northeasterners routinely do). I’ve never driven as if I’ve been inserted into a video game … or at least haven’t in many years. I’m not a raving lunatic.

Most of my time driving in Northern Indiana these last 19 years has seen me besieged by my own emotions. Each day as I walk into my garage, I tell myself to take it all in stride, whatever happens during that day’s driving. It’s my daily pep talk. “Here we go, Jim, you can do this. You’re going to see a wide range of silly things, Jim, things that you don’t understand. Let everything roll off your back, Buddy. The point of driving is to arrive safely at your destination. It’s not to judge everyone else’s skills, crusade against perceived slights or cause potentially harmful stress.” 

My positive self-talk generally guides me down the driveway, out into my neighborhood and occasionally onto the main road … but not much farther. 

You see, I live in an area where the speed limit is rarely approached and most often only exceeded by a lone driver … unless you’re on one particular road. There’s a section of Indiana 23, maybe a mile and a half between Cleveland and Douglas where, for whatever reason, essentially everyone drives 10 over (or more!). Beyond that anomaly, though, you’re just not going to drive 35 in a 30, or 45 in a 40 anywhere else. 

Driving through South Bend itself is even more exasperating. You’re most often going to drive between 21 and 27 in a 30 or 35 zone, depending on if you catch every traffic light in town. You’re just not moving quickly enough to get through many.

Ok, I’m not quite being fair. We stop at lots and lots of traffic signals because there ARE lots and lots of signals. Driving 200 yards in the city without seeing one is a rare feat. In fact, there’s a stretch of 23, a few miles down the road from the “Daytona qualifying” section, where there are traffic signals at three consecutive blocks, all about 75 yards apart. Somehow, I stop at all three more often than I get through one or two. I think I drove through all three once, kind of like I think I saw a shooting star once. If we’re serious about solving climate change, those three blocks, with all the stopping, idling and starting again, might solve the world’s carbon emissions issue all on its own. 

Speed isn’t the only frustrating thing, though. Wait. Saying “speed” has a guilty feel to it. Let’s say the slow-moving, herd-mentality phenomenon isn’t the only frustrating thing. There are many instances of things that just don’t make sense — daily, no, hourly, no, every minute. 

There’s the drivers who start breaking, from a slow speed to begin with, as they approach a green light. Yes, a green light. They’re driving 30 miles per hour and compressing their brakes, to come to a stop, as they approach a green light. If they were driving 60, I’d say they should absolutely slow down. But at 25 or 30, you could almost stop your car like the Flintstones if, by some twist of fate, the signal were to turn from green to yellow. There should be no planned stops on green. 

Of course, the driver who blocks the right turn lane when intending, all along, to continue straight is annoying. No, please don’t jump to their defense, telling me that they’re planning on taking a right soon after the intersection. They never do. In 38 years of driving, I’ve seen them take that next right twice, as memory serves. They’re just showing all that they’re more comfortable hugging the curb and do not care if they take a minute or two from your life. 

The other side of that coin is the driver who’s in the right lane and does intend to go right, a legal “right on red,” has ample opportunity, but chooses to wait on the signal to turn green. Well, there’s another minute or two lost in our lives. 

The environment? Count up all the minutes we lose at traffic signals, idling away, from all the cars on the road, and imagine if every car, everywhere, could save five minutes each day of their engine running. 

Everything I’ve shared, all my Larry David frustrations with others, at least the Curb Your Enthusiasm version of Larry, have generally occurred between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. I discovered this morning that there’s a whole different world driving before 8 a.m., while taking my daughter to school. It’s a world where I’m the slow driver. People are passing me! They’re weaving. Some not only turn right on red but occasionally left on red! The work week sunrise drive is the Bizarro World, for any Super Man enthusiasts out there. 

My 44 in a 40, and eventually 59 in a 55, was holding people up. I hadn’t seen this world, not here. Boston? Sure. Granger, Indiana? Never. I started wondering if I hadn’t actually woken up and begun the commute. Maybe I was still dreaming? No, if I were dreaming, I would know the songs being played in my car. This was clearly my daughter’s play list. I didn’t recognize any songs. 

Strangely, I was very comfortable in this world. I was the slow guy. I didn’t join in the speed fest, nor the video game guy, who was bobbing and weaving, and racing to every red light. I was at peace with being me. Maybe that’s it? Maybe it’s that the slow driver, and the driver who doesn’t process right on red, or which lane is more helpful to others, is inhibiting me? The fast drivers go past me. They allow me to be me. Apparently, it’s the driver who doesn’t allow me to go about my day who frustrates me, sends me to therapy and/or cues my insufferable driving monologue. 

No, this commute was different. I walked in from my garage quietly. I was at peace … and ready to enjoy my oatmeal.