Zen and the Art of Egoless Driving, Lesson 3

Slow Down.

That's it . . . . just slow down.

OK, OK, I'll elaborate. I lived and commuted in Detroit for a few years. I've been there, done that, never got the t-shirt or, amazingly, a ticket. I did have to call for bail money once but that was completely unrelated to speed. Recently, I've spent 300,000 or so miles on the highways and byways. Not many of them in rush hour traffic but just enough. Enough hours in traffic in different places in the world that I can tell you that Detroit Drivers are the worst. In fact, there were only three times that I experienced anything worse than Detroit; all isolated incidents. Twice in Texas with a fatal accident somewhere ahead of me. And once in New York City, I was halfway from Long Island City to the George Washington Bridge when a Yankees game let out. It wasn't just the traffic jam, everyone in New York thinks they're special and were fighting like lemmings to get to the front of the line. One guy got so excited, he changed lanes without looking and rammed his sexy foreign car into the dollies _underneath_ a semi trailer. Luckily, not mine.

My theory is that Detroit is the worst because, up until recently anyway, nearly everyone in town was building cars or had a link somewhere in the supply chain. Therefore, Detroiters think of cars as toys. Everybody zips along in Detroit Rush Hour - 75 mph [at least] and 8 inches apart. OK, in Winter it was only 73 mph and people are playing it safe - 9.5" apart. Detroit Rush Hour was one of the first virtual reality arcade games. Everyone was playing. You're watching all your mirrors and scanning the horizon, vectoring the cars around you and strategizing. Some guy is barely in front of you and you slip in right behind him. You're running so close together, the heat from your radiator is fogging the chrome on his rear bumper.

Once we have entered the fray, we have to win. We'll cut in and out of lanes, pass on the right, jam the gears and the gas, brake, jam, brake, jam. Hell, we'd consider passing on the shoulder if it meant getting the jump on those out-of-state-plates driving the speed limit! When the inevitable happens and we get bogged down, we are livid. DON'T THEY UNDERSTAND?!?! I'VE GOT TO GET TO . . . to where? To work? You aren't nearly that enthusiastic about your job once you've made into the office parking lot.

Lets assume you have a 45 mile commute. If you drive 75 mph, it will take you 36 minutes to go 45 miles. If you drive 57 mph, it takes you a little more than 47 minutes. Is all that stress worth getting to the office 11 minutes sooner?

What about a 90 mile commute? Maybe you're in management and you live out in some verdant, peaceful suburb. If you drive 75 mph, it will take 72 minutes. Driving 57 will stretch that to almost 95 minutes! If you're in management, you are definitely going to tell me that those 23 minutes are valuable. Read on.

Now, some of you readers are on to me already. There is a problem in my examples, though I tried to word them carefully. The times are only valid if you could leap into your car while it was already doing 75 mph! And you'd have to average 75 mph for the entire trip. If there are more than a couple stop signs, or the inevitable traffic jam along the way, your average speed will plummet. Every time you slow down and/or stop, you are losing most of the 11 minutes you gained in the example. You're spending lots of driving time at the same speed as someone who is only driving 57 mph on the highway. Take it from someone who gets paid by the mile, just stopping to hit the john will spoil your average speed for hours.

So, back when I thought I was done, I suggested you slow down. Not only will your fuel consumption and maintenance costs go down, you will gain an even more precious commodity. . . peace. Tranquility. You can laugh at all the stress puppies flying by you on the highway. You can smile at those slow out-of-towners. You can get to work in a decent mood and smile at your coworkers. You will become unbound. Think of smiling at the threshold of your house in the evening. Imagine hanging out with your family without that lump in your gut; without the crispy edges around your burned out life.

There is something else that happens to me regularly out here on the road. Someone will fly by me on the way. At the next stop sign, rest area or truckstop, that same vehicle is right there in front of me; just pulling into a parking space when I enter the lot. Imagine your coworkers stomping in to the building, cussing under their breath and swallowing all that pressure. If you take the slow lane, you'll likely be sauntering in right behind them. Except you'll be smiling, noticing that the landscape guys planted flowers. You'll remember someone's birthday as you walk by their desk. You'll be happy enough to just start your day instead of heading for the coffee machine to bitch about traffic. Imagine how you'll feel that night at home. You'll notice how beautiful your family is, how lucky you are. You'll be living a life instead of fuming about traffic.

So what's it going to be? Five minutes sooner to a job you don't really like anyway? Or the slow lane, smiles and peace? Well, no stress on the road. You're still just a hamster in the wheel once you get to work.