The Road of the Damned
Sounds like some Trucker Noir, novel, doesn’t it? A lonely truck driver makes one last run to pay off a shady loan shark or lose his rig… While that might be a pitch for a new pulp fiction series (It would have to be in audio book format, because truckers can’t hold a book while they drive), I experienced my own little version of the Road of the Damned this past week.
Every so often, I drive from Northern California to a spot on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona, roughly 800 miles each way. Now, I don’t mind driving, in fact I prefer it to air travel these days, with the lines, delays and the ever present question as to if your baggage will end up with you, or sitting along a dried up airstrip in Mogadishu. The offer of a complimentary TSA grope does little to sweeten the deal for me. But that’s just me.
So, I chose to make this trip, the old fashioned American way, by car, relaxing on the wide open interstate. Well, that was the idea. Then reality came and gave me a wedgie. Reality is a fickle bitch, by the way. I had no way of knowing that reality cast me as an extra in a Mad Max movie.
And It turns out more like this:
There were more cars on the road than I’ve ever seen on this route before. Interstate 5 was packed, but moved along at a brisk 80 mile per hour pace. The 210, cutting across the north of Los Angeles, looked like an Ikea Parking lot on a Black Friday Sale. Then there was the Devil’s Highway, Interstate 10, the place where road rage was born. I believe when you drive on the Devil’s Highway, something happens to you, on a molecular level. Whether from the triple digit heat, subliminal patterns in the mirages that shimmer off the asphalt, or sonic vibrations from the wind farms outside of Palm Springs, drivers morph into primal beings.
When you glance up into the rear view and all you can make out is the “F” in Ford, you’ve got a problem on your tail. I’m following the car ahead of me, moving with the flow of traffic and this guy wants to claim my space, so he can move another ten feet forward. I wait for a opening, pull in behind a truck in the slow lane, and the Ford F-150 screams by until it is inches from the car I followed. Now I’m trapped behind a farm truck carrying God only knows what kind of animal waste and I’ve discovered that methane in animal poop becomes weaponized material in 110 degree heat.
The Ford bulldozes down the highway, followed by the next level of predator, the Darter. As annoying as the Ford Tailgater is, the Darter causes a release of stress hormones on a level, unseen outside of government jobs. The Darter knows, to the inch, how much space you have between your front bumper and the car you are following. The Darter swoops into the gap with the precision of a neurosurgeon, causing a cascade of brake lights.
After the Darter leaves to claim another patch of asphalt, the car in front of you slows down, I mean really slows down, from 75 to 50. And there is nothing in front of him for a half mile. I can’t move because I’m boxed in next to a semi truck and then I understand. I’ve found the Gamer. The Gamer gets his jollies by making traffic back up and feeds off the frustration of all those trapped in his wake. You seen his jaundiced eyes flick up in his rear view mirror and he doesn’t budge.
The Devil’s other minions, the Texter, the Turn Signal Leaver Oner, and the Left Footed Braker, make for a twelve hour adrenaline filled joy ride. By the time I pulled into Phoenix, I was a quivering, gelatinous blob, twitching like a ferret on crank.
On rare occasion, one of the Devil’s Chosen Ones, will make a move so blatantly unsafe that it catches the eye of the Highway Patrol. When one of the dark ones fall from the the devil’s grace, gets pulled to the side of the road in a traffic stop, a warmness fills me as I give them the finger as I pass.
There are dozens of really crappy drivers out there. How many of them are drunk, distracted, texting, exhausted, over medicated, should be medicated, or looking for revenge because their employer made them stay late? Makes you wonder how many are licensed at all and maybe we set the bar a little low in our expectations out on the road. I think I’m gonna stay close to home for the rest of the summer driving season.
The joy of a summer drive, eh? Twitch.
Have a summer drive experience you’d care to share?