One-finger salutes and other commuterland tales
“I’m in the fast lane now,Behind a huge snowplow,The stones that it throwsHit my hood with sharp blows,I’m in the fast lane now.”(The above song, created during the depths of a wintertime commute, should be sung to the tune of that old standard, “I’m in the Army Now,” preferably with a fife and drum duet on backup.)Yes, I’ve been commuting up Colorado Highway 82 for nearly a year now, and I was sick of it before I even began.Actually, I started my commuting life in July, on my motorcycle, so the first four months were not so bad. A fast scoot up this beautiful valley in the a.m. and again in the p.m. is a nice way to round out the day.But the winter, I’m afraid, sucked raw eggs. Every day getting stuck in a slow knot of indifferent dump-truck pilots and angry construction workers in pickups became an exercise in restraint, as I at first fell straight into the twisted mind-set that seems to infect the vast majority of the automotive horde.As we all are aware, commuting on Killer 82 can cause brain damage. It may even be physically quantifiable; maybe the little dendrites in the brain get overloaded by all the highly charged stimulation from other, equally overheated brains nearby. All this power builds up until it is released suddenly, in a supernova of action potential, that translates directly into a raised middle digit, or an explosively ejaculated expletive that cannot be deleted because it is verbal and at high volume.That is to say, the commuting driver’s brain cooks on high heat until, out of the blue, a hand is lifted in the time-honored salute, or a mouth screams unprintable things in all directions. This release, however, is not at all cathartic, as the charge immediately begins to build again.Maybe I should go for a Ph.D. in schizo-commuting analysis, write a doctoral dissertation on my daily drive. Given the exponential growth in cars around the urban centers in this country, I could certainly wrangle myself a job as a highly paid consultant to some local government.Hmmm. More study is needed.In the meantime, the humor of the commute is what I try to focus on. If some a–hole cuts me off as he plays Mario Andretti in his Honda Civic, weaving at 75 mph down the lanes, narrowly missing any number of bumpers in the process, I try to imagine him with a Super Mario mustache and hat, which almost always brings a giggle to the surface.That’s a lot better than my responses in the days of yore. There was a time, if someone tailgated me for too long, I would start to slow down to a crawl just to piss them off. Then, when they would inevitably pass me, I’d crowd their tail till we came to a stoplight, jump out and run up to the driver’s window to tell him or her what I thought of their driving skills.The one time I did this with my spousal unit in the car, she was sure she was about to witness my sudden death by gunfire. (It turned out the driver was too scared by my approaching rage to do much more than roll up his window and stare straight ahead.)I still detest tailgaters above all other commuting criminals, although the weavers and passers rate right up there, too. But now, after I’ve slowed sufficiently to force the ‘gater to pass me, I simply grin at him or her as they whistle by with their hands in the air, finger saluting or not.I still, however, occasional raise a salute of my own. Can’t help it. Like the other evening when some guy in a sporty red coupe passed me on my motorcycle as I approached the Catherine Store Bridge after turning off Highway 82.I was doing about 40 or so, and he had to stomp on it to get around me before we got to the bridge. As he was passing, it occurred to me that if some equally crazed speed demon had gotten to the bridge at the same time, from the other side, I’d be one squashed cyclist. So I casually saluted his departing taillights, watching his eyes bug out in his rearview mirror as he returned the salute. Ah, it’s nice to be noticed.A short time later, I realized he had pulled off 100 Road onto a driveway as the road neared Carbondale’s Main Street, and was waiting to flip me off again as I buzzed by at a respectably slow speed.I smiled.His mouth was working overtime.For a minute I thought he was going to follow me home to continue the conversation, which might have turned ugly, but he never showed.And so ended another adventure in commuterland, with a whimper instead of a bang, a finger instead of a fist.John Colson can be reached at email@example.com
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