Monday, December 5, 2011

Traveling with the Pack

Unfortunately, part of the time that I lived and worked in the Puget Sound area, I had to drive 40 miles one way on the freeway to work. One of the things this taught me is that people are basically herd animals, therefore, cars travel in packs. Although this phenomenon could be attributed to stop lights letting cars onto the freeways at regular intervals, it doesn’t explain why they stay together on the freeway, which they do. The glom together and blindly follow the person in front of them, sometimes way too close, presumably so they don’t have to stay aware and think while they’re driving, which would be asking way too much.

Maybe it’s the independent-spirited Alaskan in me or maybe I’m just a loner at heart, but I relish the open spaces between the packs. They’re not completely empty—often there are one or two independent souls out there with me. But, for at least a few blissful minutes, and sometimes longer, nobody is tailgating me, changing lanes abruptly in front of me without signaling, or speeding up right when I get alongside to pass them. I was able to set the cruise control and daydream or maybe even get a few glimpses of something nice like Mt. Rainier.

Of course, being separated from the pack does make me vulnerable to predators—namely, the cops because I did travel a little over the posted speed. Like the blips of salmon prowling the edges of a herring school on a fish finder, or a pack of wolves culling a herd of caribou, cops seem to like darting in to nab motorists going too fast along the edges of, or outside, the pack. I suppose that one reason us loners are more vulnerable is that it must be hard to get a bead on speeders when there’s a whole mess of cars going by and they’re all speeding.

Pulling over a speeder causes all kinds of traffic problems. For one, everybody wants to slow down for a look—often too far down. In fact, any kind of activity on or near the roadway can cause traffic to slow, even when it doesn’t really seem necessary. I’ve seen traffic slow considerably (down to 30 mph) for a sheen of water about 50 feet wide where it had seeped onto a dry road. And, yes, this was in Seattle, where the drivers freak out about a little water on the road and don’t seem to know how to drive in the rain at all. Granted, my first 15 years of driving were on this island where it rains three to four times as much as Seattle, but everybody knows you have to adjust your driving to the road conditions, don’t they? Well, that is everybody who doesn’t drive an SUV, who seem to think that their machine allows them to ignore anything in their way – rain, snow, ice, smaller cars…

Living in Puget Sound, I’d forgotten the joys of driving. How nice it is to just go for a drive. You can do that here. Nobody tailgates unless you’re going incredibly slow and maybe not even then. Sometimes, I drive the 4 miles to town and don’t pass a single car. Going for a drive also keeps many of us on the island sane. You see people pacing around and around in their cars sometimes, searching for something new to look at. Wait, look, the Johnson’s put up some new decorations. Is that a new appliance being delivered to the Smith house? What’s her car doing parked at his house? Interesting stuff like that. It may be boring sometimes but it’s still better than being fed to the wolves on the freeway.