This tailgate party didn’t involve nachos

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Column: Tales from Exit 22

I may be slow, but I’m ahead of you.

You’ve likely seen that on a bumper sticker.

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But not on my car.

I was driving down a two-lane, rural highway that was in “good winter driving conditions.” Compared to what, I don’t know.

It was a long road without a next town. It was posted at 55 mph. I admit I was driving slightly over that. I was breaking the law. I think of it as not impeding traffic. Only glaciers move at the legal speed limit. Automobiles are made to go too fast. When is a posted speed limit the actual speed limit? Is it only when a police car is visible? I try to drive as Goldilocks would — not too fast, not too slow, just right.

The road had an abundance of yellow lines, limiting the opportunity to pass. There was no one near enough for me to consider overtaking. I checked my mirrors — both the rearview mirror inside and the outside mirrors. When I took driver training, Mr. Lillesve told me to check my mirrors constantly. I do.

The mirrors showed a tiny speck. It grew quickly. It wasn’t there and then it was there! A red car had caught up to me with a speed undiminished until it neared my rear bumper. The bumper that didn’t carry an “I may be slow but I’m ahead of you” bumper sticker. There was barely room for a bumper between us. The driver didn’t flash his lights or honk, but remained glued to my bumper as he wondered how I ever got ahead of him.

We were traveling in a no-passing zone. I could tell that the driver wanted to pass. He had to pass me. It’s a law on rural highways that you must pass the car ahead of you. There are fines and suspensions for noncompliance.

In a perfect world, I’d have been content driving exactly 55 mph and the car behind me would have waited patiently until we reached a section of the road that allowed passing. In a perfect world, life is not a fast car.

I wondered what to do. Should I be a jerk and slow down? Should I accelerate and extend the passing process as much as possible? The thought of hitting my brakes and letting the insurance companies sort it out didn’t occur to me. Life is too short for car crashes. Should I pull to the side of the road and let him zoom past? Would he appreciate it? I like getting that little “thank you” wave. Do I ignore him?

I tried to remember what else Mr. Lillesve taught me during driver education. I obtained my license at age 15. I must have learned something. I passed the written test on the first try. I passed the driving test on only my second attempt. My first examiner had a bad attitude. My success on the second try crushed the hopes of my classmates, all of whom had picked higher numbers in the pool of how many attempts it would take Al Batt to become a licensed driver.

We motored down the road. Neither of us changing our ways. We played the finger-pointing game in our minds — he’s driving too fast, he’s driving too slow. A driver is like a book that is elegantly bound but difficult to read. I develop lead-car paranoia when a car is riding my bumper. That paranoia increases only when a police car is behind me.

We moved in unison as the driver awaited the opportunity to pass me just as wolves anticipate an elk’s fatigue. The world is full of sharp edges. Driving a car is difficult, and I try not to let another car drive me. I don’t mind being passed. “After you,” is my motto.

I looked for a safe place to pull over to ease his passage. I needn’t have bothered. He passed before it was lawful. I hoped that he wouldn’t be one of those childish guys who pass and then slow down, daring me to pass so he’d have the savage pleasure of repassing as if it were a vehicular chess game.

No worries. He went by as if I were backing up, and he maintained a high speed. His future was ahead, and he had more gas money than I did. He could have been on his way to church. He might have had a dish to pass.

I don’t know what was in his heart, but there was lead in his foot.

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.