Beware the Jack-in-the-Box and Other Road Hazards

We have some practical advice for you this morning. It is the distilled wisdom of  many hundreds of thousands of miles traveled on the highways commuting, towing and hauling.

It comes at a time when the veneer of civilization that covers our civil society has grown thin in places, and the roadways are beset by an unusual number of, well, we can’t print what we sometimes say when we encounter them on the road, but for the purposes of this discussion we’ll refer to them as “organs” and “orifices.”

That’s a good segue to our first recommendation, which is:  Don’t take anything personally. While it’s true that for some people the automobile suggests an illusion of empowered anonymity similar to social media, an illusion which can reveal the more unpleasant aspects of a damaged psyche, many of the people acting like idiots on the highway, really are idiots.

For some the condition is more or less permanent but there are also many for whom  an almost immediate lowering of intelligence occurs when entering a vehicle. They don’t mean to single any one person out for abuse, it’s just that they’re not very smart, and for many the effects of medication, intoxication and cell phone distraction are indistinguishable from stupidity.

Sometimes it helps to forget for a moment that there is another human being behind the wheel of vehicles crossing over the center line or pulling out in front of you or changing lanes unexpectedly. Think of that vehicle as simply an inanimate but dangerous obstacle that needs to be avoided, and give it plenty of room. You wouldn’t get angry at a tree that falls across the road, and thinking of other vehicles as being devoid of human consciousness can help you avoid unpleasant feelings. (This is most important if you travel frequently, since you will often encounter drivers devoid of consciousness.)

It’s above my pay grade to explain why, but sometimes when you’re traveling a distance on an interstate, you will encounter idiots traveling in packs. Packs of idiots are the scourge of every long distance traveler. I think it has to do with some kind of natural attraction for each other shared by drivers who take things personally.

It probably starts with one stupid or selfish maneuver. Someone is following too closely and the car in front speeds up. Someone fails to yield the left lane. Someone insists on going first and unnecessarily passes someone else who also insists on being in front. Someone really bad at the risk versus reward assessment thinks that shaving ten minutes off of a trip is worth risking her own life and the lives of everyone else she passes while she weaves from lane to lane.

Unfortunately, traveling the speed limit exposes you to a higher number of packs of idiots. You can see them approaching in the mirror. The simplest thing to do is to stay calm and maintain your speed while the pack eventually passes you. Beware the sometimes overwhelming impulse to join it.

In heavy traffic it is often difficult to escape a pack of idiots,  and sometimes packs take on really unpleasant and even dangerous tones. In this situation it might be best to pull over or take an exit. Get a cup of coffee or top off the tank. Allow the dangerous pack to get a few miles ahead where it will eventually dissipate.

The next piece of advice is specific to rural areas like ours. I’m sure you’ve seen it often. I call it, “The Jack-in-the-box syndrome.” You’re on a long straight stretch of highway. There are no cars in front or behind you, and in the distance you see a car waiting to pull out onto the road. You get closer and closer until, at the last possible moment of safety (including the hard braking that you do) the car pulls out. Hopefully it enters the opposite lane but all too often, it deposits itself in front of you in order to travel 30 in a 55 mph zone.

It’s hard not to take that personally, but it’s necessary, and it’s vital in our area to be alert for such vehicles. A simple mnemonic device may help. When you see that car in the distance, begin reciting “Around, around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel, the monkey thought ’twas all in fun, ‘POP’ goes the weasel!” The extra bit of readiness may just save you some brake lining.

Another phenomenon familiar to local drivers is what I like to call “The Tractor Beam effect.” You’ve heard of tractor beams if you ever watched Star Trek:  An invisible beam of magnetic or attractive energy that reaches across space to pull at another object.

The tractor beam effect is often caused by organ and orifice drivers or by unconscious drivers who follow too closely. There are twenty cars lined up on the highway. You are maintaining your safe interval, but you look in the mirror and see the spinach in the teeth of the driver behind you. The tractor beam is engaged and you are forced to slow down, so you instinctively hit the brakes.

(This is a cautionary tale for urban drivers who visit our area and are accustomed to daisy-chain driving. We’re not in such a hurry here. You can’t push a rope, and you can’t push a line of cars. Back off.)

I hope these suggestions are helpful. Remember, don’t take anything personally. Think of other vehicles as dangerous inanimate objects. Avoid packs of idiots. Beware the Jack-in-the-box. Back off or experience the tractor beam effect.

Oh, and one more thing for some of you local drivers:  The Post Office is NOT the entrance to Ingles.




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