Monday, August 17, 2015

Nurse the Hate: Hate the Merge

The Kia Rio took a cautious right turn onto the ramp.  It sluggishly gained speed onto the section on I-90 around Cleveland known as the Innerbelt.  These on ramps are not for cowards.  The key on this ramp, like any major highway in a large population center, is to rapidly gain speed to match that of the oncoming traffic.  This particular ramp is very short and quickly merges into a lane that shoots off into a split with I-77.  It was becoming obvious that the driver ahead of me was in over their head as the speed of the green Kia was hovering about 35-40 mph.

There is a great myth amongst poor drivers that extremely slow driving=safe driving.  I don’t know why the idea that limping onto the highway like a wounded gazelle is considered “safe”.  It’s as if that by driving slowly the gazelle driver will somehow reduce the speed of everything else around them, creating more time to run the too fast approaching traffic scenarios through their minds.  I could see that this Kia was going to be in trouble.  Big trouble.  Several SUVs were shooting up behind us in traffic towards the point where we would all merge.  It was clear that the Kia wasn’t going nearly fast enough.  Not only was the Kia in trouble, it was leaving me hanging in the breeze as traffic in the neighboring lanes prevented me from shooting across left to safety.  I was trapped behind the Kia, our fates intertwined.  This is when the Kia driver truly set itself apart…

I was quite "surprised" to see the Kia’s brake lights flash on and the car rapidly stopping.  It was probably the worst decision possible.  We were at this point 100% completely committed on the highway and now squarely in front of traffic that was flying into our rear bumpers at 65 mph.  We were not on the ramp any longer.  We were now on I-90 limping along at maybe 35 mph.  Now the exact opposite of what should have happened was happening.  The driver of the Kia must have panicked at seeing the cars coming up behind it, and inexplicably decided to come to a complete stop on I-90.  Not a gradual slow down  A complete stop.  Holy mother of fuck.

I jammed on the gas, flew over to the middle lane left and listened to the cars screech up behind the Kia.  I must have come within 6-8 inches of being rear ended as the cars behind me must have been as shocked as I was to see a Kia throw itself into park on a highway.  As I passed the Kia the weather beaten woman driving it began going crazy, her left arm gesticulating wildly with a middle finger.   She was “full Cleveland” with a questionable dye job, cigarette, enormous discount sunglasses, and skin that could be charitably called “leathery”.  She had almost killed all of us, yet was convinced that somehow all of this was my fault.

Even now I cannot come up with any rationale as to why this woman was upset with me.  She was in complete command of her destiny.  She totally bungled what is a basic driving scenario.  “God damn you!  How dare you pass my completely stopped car on the highway!”  How did she get to this conclusion?  She must literally lose her mind three times a day as she drifts around dangerously like a slow moving obstacle, yet convinced she is a bastion of safety.  She is a slow moving steel construction barrel that moves in random fashion.  How can it be possible she hasn’t noticed the strategy of every other motorist is exactly opposite of hers?  Based on what I saw, this is not the first time something like this has happened.  “Hmmm… the other cars appear to be merging without incident… perhaps I should try that “speed up to everyone else’s speed” gambit…  What I’m doing isn’t working so well.”

Maybe I'm being too tough on her.  Sometimes I am slow on the uptake.  I have been that person that was the last to realize things going on around me.  9th grade algebra comes to mind as I struggled to understand not only 2X-Y=Z, but why I would care about that end result.  In Geometry the next year I said, “What’s the chance I will ever come in contact with a rhombus?  I won’t need this…” as I flamed out.  I was the one that didn’t replace the sump pump prior to a basement flood when the plumber said weeks earlier, “You know, that thing is pretty old… You oughtta replace it.”  I have been slow on such matters of the heart as “she doesn’t really care about you” until presented with concrete proof.   I’m just not that swift.  Yet, even I realize that if everyone else is driving 65 mph, and I’m in front of them, my move is to speed up as fast as possible, not stop and wait it out.
I was in Tampa once, being trained in some corporate sales hoodoo voodoo, and I was left with my nights free.  I decided one night to see the Tampa Rays play at their shitbox stadium, which turned out to be across town.   A taxi would have cost me about $569.  I needed a rental car, but I did not want to get too far out of pocket to see a Rays/White Sox game.  I took a comp hotel airport shuttle to the rental car counters.  I went from Hertz to Avis to Alamo looking for the best deal.  “Look, I just need the car for five hours.  I will pay you in cash for anything.  I don’t give a shit what it is either.  How about $20?”  Each drone employee gave me the standard rebuttal.  “We can only blah blah blah…”  This was until I got to Enterprise…

“I’m sorry sir, but the cheapest thing we have is our compacts at $45 a day.  But…”  He turned to his co-worker.  “What about if we?”  The other guy answered him.  “Is that still back there?”  After some back and forth clicking into the terminal they addressed me again.  This was clearly not a standard rental.  “For $20 we can give you something, but you have to have it back here by midnight.”  Deal.  I gave them a twenty and they gave me the key.

The "something" was a Geo Metro two door hatchback, about the size of a leaf pile.  It was purple.  It had manual windows.  The tires were somehow thinner than most emergency spares.  It was really a car only in theory.  I pulled out of the rental car area and hopped on a short on ramp for the highway.  The challenge of merging with the highway traffic was the shortness of the ramp.  Making matters worse was the fact it was uphill, challenging the little lawnmower engine to produce any thrust.  At the time my primary car was a BMW 330ci, a twin turbo beast that could hit 100 mph in an instant.  This was a different animal.  I had my foot to the floor of the car.  The speed didn’t seem to increase but the urgency of the engine’s screaming protest went into a higher register.  I essentially just drifted onto the highway as other drivers urgently swerved around me mouthing “motherfucker”.

The key to driving that vehicle was to realize that control was only an illusion.  It was almost like sailing.  In a sense it was freeing in that I took the car into the lane and totally depended on the other vehicles to let me in. The only option I had was to meekly accelerate into the fray and hope my optimistic attitude would carry me through the absurdly dangerous situation.  To show even the slightest hesitation was akin of showing fear in the jungle.  To have hit the brakes like that woman today?  I would have been tangled in flaming aluminum.  I would have also deserved it.  To ride in a flimsy vehicle like that is to have only one option and that is to accelerate while hoping for victory.

I don't know where that Kia Rio will be tomorrow.  I hope I don't come across its path.  Maybe I will pass a tiny little fire on the side of the highway and smell burnt hairspray and melted plastic sunglasses.  It will be with mixed emotions that I will scream by, not slowing for even an instant.  I will feel badly for the woman's family as they will miss her.  They will feel responsible as I am sure they sat in her passenger seat once (and only once) and realized with a stark cold realization how badly she drove that little Kia.  They will be filled with guilt that instead of telling her to stop driving like a damn fool they instead indulged her stories of everyone else and their wanton recklessness.  They will feel very badly.  Not me though.  I'll know it was operator error.  There's one way to go.  You have to keep moving forward.  You have to accelerate.         


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