Osius column: Driving with the dudes
A big, boxy silver truck precedes me on the narrow Colorado River bridge in Glenwood.
“Shoot into the left lane,” Mike says. “Get around that dope.”
But the big silver truck moves left, preventing my switch. “You missed your chance!” Mike says. He is stunned.
Tired, he preferred I drive the hour home from Rifle while he leaned back and popped a cold one. But he has opinions, as do our sons. I see driving as a means to get somewhere and in a cautious, low stress and generally amiable way. They view it as a performance sport. These days the boys are usually gone (one in college, and one off with a job and apartment), but when around, as they were for a month this summer, they join in opining when I, the night owl and nondrinker, drive us anywhere.
“Gawd!” they all say at what I do or don’t do.
“Step on it,” Mike also suggests periodically.
I am not saying only males feel compelled to pass other vehicles; hey, I can think of a female friend who drives impatiently. Wait, two. It’s just that way in my life and has ever been. I remember how my high-school boyfriend, on our way from windsurfing to a dinner, changed from his damp T-shirt to a collared one, all while behind the wheel.
“How about pulling over?” I suggested, but he just kept squirming in and out of shirts.
Steering from the passenger seat, I asked again, amazed, why not just pull over. He paused, laughed ashamedly, and said, “Because then all those guys I passed will pass me.”
Once my then brother-in-law, with my sister riding a resigned shotgun, blazed up valley ahead of the rest of us in another car to ski, only to mistakenly turn right at Old Snowmass because he thought it was Snowmass Ski Resort.
Over the years, I’ve often driven with friends and co-workers to Salt Lake City for various purposes. As we proceed north on the final leg, the largely two-lane highway 6, I keep chatting about news, past trips and things I’ve read lately. The drivers and often a passenger or two switch focus into getting past semis.
“Isn’t this a Sisyphean effort?” I ask from the back seat. “We pass one, don’t we just come up behind another?”
No reply; they are thinking about making good time. And actually, in a six-hour drive, we are in the one situation in which speed makes an appreciable difference. A chart on the life-tips-and-tricks site lifehacker.com indicates that speeding up by 10 mph makes only a negligible difference (like one or three minutes) for most drives and adds up only on long ones, like 500 miles.
As for being in slow traffic, you might as well sit tight. Two University of Toronto researchers widely quoted after a study in 2011 maintained that though cars in another lane may appear to be moving faster, they usually are not.
“Frequent lane changes not only won’t save a driver time, they might put drivers and their passengers at risk of accidents,” the Sun Sentinel of Florida reported. “And this is what you gain: The chronic lane changer might save a mere four minutes out of an 80-minute drive.”
In fact, lane-changing often slows congested traffic, according to an article in last year’s Wall Street Journal: “[Drivers] speed up when they should slow down. They change lanes when they should stay put. They squeeze together when they should spread out. …When something unexpected occurs, it leads to sudden braking, and what might have been a manageable slowdown becomes a miserable crawl or … standstill.”
The guys in my house don’t care (though I keep mentioning it) that I haven’t had a ticket since 1988 or a fender bender since Ted, nearly 23, was a baby, when, though going painfully slowly, we turned sideways on glazed ice on our hill.
To them driving is a matter of focus, purpose and solidity.
A recent New Yorker review of Jay McInerney’s new novel, “Bright, Precious Lights,” cited these two lines between a wife and the athletic husband who is stricken to have botched a catch at a company softball game.
“Oh, come on, it’s just a game,” she says.
“No, it’s not,” he says. “It’s never just a game.”
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.