17
Feb
10

Death at 70 miles per hour – or, Have a Very John Carpenter Day

We have all been tail-gated.

My impression is that people who tail-gate would not do such an aggressive, dangerous thing in a personal, face-to-face situation. That co-worker who smiles and fills your coffee cup when it gets halfway down may be a freakin’ maniac on the highway.

Maniac? Did moi just attribute anti-social characteristics to another human being, a hyperbolic judgement of someone whom I don’t really know? Yes. And we do know such people, God help them. And God save us from them.

The worst incident was partly my fault. My ex and I were returning from Kansas City. The late-night highway had sparse traffic. A car (let’s call it Christine, ok?) overtook me with a closing speed of about 10mph. That’s a rather deliberate difference in speed. When she got close – too freakin’ close, dammit – she matched speed with me and stayed riiiiight behind me.

This is ordinarily not a big problem. But Christine was not an ordinary problem. I did the standard maneuver: slow slightly, to encourage the faster car (that is, faster a few seconds ago) to make the pass and continue on her quest to accumulate speeding tickets. It worked. Sorta.

Christine made the pass. Then she pulled into my lane and slowed slightly to my speed, placing me in tail-gating position! There didn’t seem to be much choice here, so I slowed a little more to let Christine drift away. But, no, she had already developed a certain fondness for my presence.

Option #2 was to pass the passer. I did so, and placed sufficient distance between us that we were no longer sharing cigarettes in bed. Apparently, Christine’s addiction was really bad. She started the whole thing again.

We did this about three times. The third time, I rammed my foot down on the bicycle pump under the dashboard and got about a quarter mile ahead. Christine must have been a track star in college, because she caught up by the time I did a second check rearward in the Ultra-zoom-oscope. She didn’t merely catch up, she nuzzled up against me like I was either her new co-buddy-f’er or a fellow castaway on an Aleutian island. I couldn’t see her thumper-bumper.

This is when I truly understood the nuclear weapons arms race.
Christine didn’t just up the ante. She went all-in.

It actually got worse after that. I tried running, and she proved her superior willingness to drive 80-85 mph. She was also willing to pass me, swerve into my lane, and slam the brakes. I was m-f’ing scared. I did not know how to defuse the situation. What would you have done? This was before we all kept supercomputer-based telephones in our shirt pockets. The driver was a guy who had offered all the personal interaction of Jeffrey Dahmer sticking pins in a frog.

I did escape. My exit found me near my pinnacle of desperation. I waited until the last moment, then made a hard merge across the terminating markings onto the exit. Christine’s inertia solved the problem.

Sober contemplation has provided the solution to such maniacal interactions: when driving, always act to diminish aggression. With Christine, I should have pulled to the shoulder, stopped, and turned on my emergency flashers. A lousy 5 minute wait would have given her the option to find a more co-dependent victim.

What if Christine had stayed with me, flashers and all? We all gamble with life, so we must all play the odds. The only option we don’t take is to fold.

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All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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